Not surprisingly, the bad news is, Paranormal Activity was way over-hyped. The good news is, it’s slightly more than simply The Blair Witch Project in a house. In fact, because it’s contained to a house, it’s easier to relate to weird paranormal things happening around the characters that they don’t know about while sleeping in their own bed than it is to relate to people purposely trekking out into the middle of the woods to find a witch and then being attacked by paranormal forces while sleeping in, you know, a tent.
What works the most in this movie is the frequent camera perspective from the main characters’ bedroom, giving us a constant glimpse into the dark hall and rooms beyond. During the footage of the couple sleeping, you find yourself staring deeply into that hall, trying to detect the slightest movement, flicker of a shadow, or even a ghostly form. The camera POV manages to psyche you out. You are convinced the filmmakers are going to play a really cheap trick on you at any moment and have some ghastly face appear right in the camera lens with a loud scream. You know, like those annoying e-mails your friends send you telling you to stare intensely at some photo to see something sweet or beautiful happen—which eventually makes you poop your pants when the jump scare takes you by surprise.
Experienced moviegoers who sat through an hour and a half of three college kids fighting over a lost map and gasping at piles of sticks on the ground in The Blair Witch Project will watch Paranormal Activity expecting much more of a payoff than some dude standing in a corner. And indeed, this film does have a bit more payoff. Even though it gets a bit repetitive after a while, there are at least some subtle nuances and ‘paranormal’ activity that make the film hold your attention.
For me, what worked the most was that I wasn’t in a theater watching it. I was on my couch, bundled under a Snuggie™ at 2 AM in the morning with just the Christmas tree lights illuminating the room. From my couch perspective, I could see the beginning of the long hall that leads back to our bedrooms—so I sort of felt like what was going on in the movie could happen to me at any moment because my surroundings were the same. I began to expect my partner, who was asleep in bed with our dogs, to come hobbling into the living room in some sort of zombie form. Considering my house was so quiet at that late hour and so was much of the footage in the movie, I could here him at one point either grumbling at my dogs for more space on our bed or talking in his sleep or something. I don’t know what it was, but it creeped me out and helped enhance the experience of the film.
I don’t know that Paranormal Activity is a film I could watch often, but I could definitely sit through it more times than The Blair Witch Project. My only real issue with the film was how often the characters would hear sounds in the house, run out of their bedroom with the camera, and fail to turn on ANY lights in the house. Sorry, but if I was being haunted by something to that extent, I would be going to sleep with EVERY light on. There were also a few too many times when they’d hear bangs and then run through the house yelling ‘who’s there?’ as if a prowler had broken in, even though they knew they were being haunted. On the other hand, the best part of the movie was that the female character kept yelling at her boyfriend for grabbing the camera when he should be helping her ward of some sort of supernatural experience (unlike the idiots in Cloverfield who made sure to grab the camera before running away from the gargantuan creature that was towering right over them and about to step on their heads).
The only other thing I have to say is, although I bought the Blu-Ray because I had a gift card, don’t bother spending the extra cash for the Blu-Ray disc if you want to own this film. The HD quality doesn’t add to the visuals since the movie is presented as amateur footage filmed by the characters anyway. Standard DVD will suffice.