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Paranormal Activity

Posted by Cantankerous Panda on January 16, 2010


I’m clearly on a horror film write-up kick (as this is my second one in two days), so if horror is not your thing, my apologies– a friend of mine just watched this one on DVD, so I felt compelled to write my review. Also, I’m feeling terribly guilty for not seeing/reviewing any classic films I promised you in the beginning. I need to dust off my Netflix movies and just watch these things already. It’s terrible.


Paranormal Activity is a low-budget horror film from a first-person perspective, mostly. Sound familiar? Think ‘Blair Witch Project‘ but with less spastic camera movements, less snot, and more scary things that you can actually see. Yeah, it’s better already. However, that’s not necessarily saying much, as I’m no big fan of Blair Witch. The premise for this film is that there’s a young couple who, upon talking about the girl’s freaky experiences she’s been having all her life and are now returning in their house, decide to videotape themselves in their house pretty much all the time (but especially while they sleep, as that’s when the scary stuff usually happens). The ‘paranormal activity’ has a slow start, of course, and naturally escalates into full-force “let’s get the fuck out of here!” magnitudes. While this is happening, the couple seek advice pretty minimally from “experts” in the San Diego/Southern California area, read some random books and websites that apparently have all the information one needs to know about demons and hauntings, and essentially ignore any notion of common sense one might have if faced with this situation (after having seen even one goddamn horror film that isn’t a slasher flick).

This film is the baby of Oren Peli, who wrote, directed, and produced it. He managed to get distribution by somehow getting the film in the hands of Steven Spielberg, who LOVED it–and before you question why that would make sense, you should know (or remember) that he directed Poltergeist, which is a great ghost movie. The only thing is, Stevie thought the ending needed a bit more POW! So, he got Oren $4,000 to slap on some CGI (the only CGI in the entire film) and reshoot the ending. Other than that, the film cost about $11,000 to make, which is amazing when you look at what it accomplished in the box office (hint– a box office of millions). The actors, Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, were paid very little, as well, and the whole thing took about 10 days to shoot. I have to say, keeping all that in mind, I find the end result to be visually impressive (without the CGI ending, mind you). I love good old-fashioned effects. They look real because they are real, so when you see creepy things happening onscreen and you can’t see what’s causing them to happen, it’s bloody awesome. Those moments were fairly chilling in the movie, except a lot of them lost their edge due to the overexposure of them in the promos. In addition, loud banging coming from an invisible source stops being terrifying after the third time or so. Just sayin’…

I hope that seemed like a good amount of praise, because I did really appreciate the effects in the film. And had it been a better film, I would have been scared. However, it was one of the most infuriating horror films I have ever seen, and I was incredibly disappointed. [This part might be spoilery, so consider yourself warned.] I cannot, for the life of me, understand why Micah was such a complete idiot throughout the entire ordeal. I can’t imagine being in that situation, after having video confirmation of paranormal activity that is tormenting the woman you love, and just brushing off professionals as some sort of silly hogwash– all while acting like an expert on demons because he read some website. Just think about how ridiculous that scenario is. And what kind of loving boyfriend tries to anger a ghost or demon even more when their girlfriend is terrified and keeps begging him to stop antagonizing it. As for her, why she didn’t just go ahead and call the expert back anyway after her boyfriend kept breaking his promises and pissing the entity off more is beyond me.

The reason why these reactions bother me so much is because they knowingly did everything wrong in the film which basically makes them responsible for all the horribleness that befalls them. That doesn’t scare me as much. Films like The Exorcist are so much more effective, to me, because it really can happen to anyone (according to the film). If you’re doing things like purposefully pissing on some Indian burial ground, you’re going to get what you deserve and I’m not going to empathize with you nearly as much. But in a film like The Exorcist, they did everything in their power to stop the incidents from continuing. They went to experts, listened to advice, and just wanted to get rid of it, but the demon persisted. That is scary. In Paranormal Activity, they basically say to the demon, “Is that all you’ve got, punk?”

In addition, I felt the film had some major pacing issues. It took way too long to get into the swing of things, there were too many moments of their lives that I honestly just didn’t care about in the slightest (and didn’t help me connect with them as people since they quickly lost my empathy with their dumb decisions), and the incidents didn’t have a satisfying escalation rate. I got bored waiting for better scares, and I got a slight thrill when they occurred, but the momentum got lost.

I’ve had conversations about this film before, and people look to the whole “Micah was protecting his girlfriend” rationality behind his actions, which I thought was quite overplayed. Then there are those who talk about how, in reality, people don’t really know what to do. This is where I agree with them in principle but disagree in application: I’ve seen enough of those “my house was haunted” TV shows (WITH re-enactments) and these people never try to piss these entities off more. They never try to get them to escalate. Also, I tend to hate horror films with characters that apparently live in a bubble and have never seen or heard of a horror film. It’s infuriating, especially because a lot of people I’ve talked to who have seen this film and don’t typically expose themselves to horror films were far more frightened by this movie than most of the seasoned horror fans I know. If you were that unexposed to scary things, don’t you think you’d desperately try to do everything you could to get rid of the entity instead of systematically egging it on? Yeah, I think you probably would try to fix it or leave, not get things to escalate and then ignore every piece of advice and shun “experts”. (Plus, this film basically asks me to believe that there’s only one ‘demonologist’ in Southern California. Not bloody likely.)

Do I recommend this film? No. I guess you could go for it if you’re easily scared, but for true horror fans, I think you’ll be disappointed. Maybe it’s better now that the hype has worn off and perhaps you cannot remember the promos so clearly, but I really don’t think it offers much in terms of staying-power or fear. It has some fun moments, sure, but you’re better off searching for those on Youtube, if possible. I totally forgot what the original ending was supposed to be, so that might be worth a look, too. Overall, I just think it’s another Blair Witch Project that, like Blair, will fail to rank highly on people’s lists of “top horror films” after a few years.


12 Responses to “Paranormal Activity”

  1. Lizzzzz said

    I was terrified. But i am a pussy. Great review. I saw the ‘alternate ending’ on the dvd and i actually dont’ know which one used CGI. But I actually liked the alternate ending more than the theatrical. nice to read a review from someone who knows her stuff!

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      I need to find the ending on Youtube. I heard it was better. I wonder why Stevie thought it would be a good idea to change the ending. Then again, he did help bring us Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, so it’s not exactly like he’s been at the top of his game lately. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Serryl said

    I’ve heard the “No one would do that in real life” criticism enough times that I wonder why scriptwriters bother including these decisions in movies. My best guess is they’re so involved in their work, they can’t step back and recognize how silly the character’s actions are from the audiences perspective. That or they’re lazy and leave the behavior in because it serves the plot. Either way I’m usually disappointed by it.

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      That’s how I feel, but it especially bothers me in horror films. Part of what made Scream so good and innovative when it came out was that it spoke directly about horror film conventions and the “rules” that apply to them. It was self-referential, and that made it interesting. It acknowledged that people in modern times have at least some amount of “typical horror-film-situation” knowledge and would potentially apply that to their real-life predicaments. When modern films make it seem like the characters have no clue what a horror film is, I simply cannot buy it (unless we’re talking about a totally cloistered group of people). If it typically bothers you, it will probably extremely piss you off in this film.

  3. That girl that you know said

    As you are aware, since I saw it with you, I pretty much agree. It took too much time for stuff to actually happen, it wasn’t nearly as scary as everyone claimed it was, Micah was an idiot, and they should have stuck with the original ending.

  4. That girl that you know said

    You mean like with almost every movie you have reviewed? Yes, oh so fun.

  5. hylianpanda said

    Hey there, this is Sushi from imps. I know the late reply is late but ive been reading your reviews all night and absolutely love them lol *favorites*.
    Anywho i actually recently saw this on dvd and completely agree with you.
    Through out the whole movie i couldnt shake the feeling that micah was being a complete arse about the whole situation. Just from his actions alone it was pretty obvious how the ending was going to turn out.

    The horror bits with real life effects were absolutely awesome. I didnt know they werent CGI at first to be honest and now im just dumb founded trying to figure out how they pulled them off. Seeing the sheet being tugged on was absolutely chilling to see.

    But aside from that the whole time i wasnt particularly afraid watching the movie due to the horror(or lack there of) happening, but rather then the constant idea in my head “What if this happened to me”. That brought more of a chill to my spine then any moment in the movie lol.

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      Heya! Thanks for reading– I’m glad you’re enjoying my reviews! 🙂

      As for the movie, I think that the point is to get you to have that “what if this happened to me?” freak-out, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I mean, if I were to have a demonic entity following me around and harassing me, I wouldn’t do everything I could to provoke it and get it to manifest in as many ways possible. Nor would I ask a “professional” for advice and ignore it. Nor would I wait until I felt I was physically in danger until I contacted the OTHER professional who specializes in demonology. So I kinda lost that whole “what if this happened to me?” chill because I wouldn’t be such a raging asshole like Micah was (and I would kick out my boyfriend if he ever did the things Micah did in that situation) and I wouldn’t be as ridiculous as she was.

      The Exorcist, for me, held much more of that chilling aspect because she was so innocent and didn’t do anything to deserve/provoke what happened to her. And they tried everything to save her and listened to the experts and the priests and everything. THAT is scary.

  6. Farah said

    I definitely agree with your review and it was a waste of time and money to see this. I had no idea why anyone would think this was scary. I do think it was disturbing that her boyfriend ignored her fears and reasonable suggestions to stay so he could document this.

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      Hello and welcome!!

      Thanks for the response! I’m glad others have experienced the same thing with this movie–I really thought my sister and I were totally alone on that front when we walked out of the theatre full of disappointment. And yeah, Micah was a totally despicable character. Ugh, now I’m remembering just how awful this movie was :P.

      Thanks again for stopping by and leaving a comment. Please feel free to check out some other reviews, and please do come back and check in on the new ones. I try to do at least once a week, if not more, and I LOVE comment conversations :D.

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