(No longer in theaters)
Jason Blum, Oren Peli, Steven Schneider
Sep 25, 2009
Like The Blair Witch Project, the micro-budget horror picture Paranormal Activity proves that nothing is scarier than nothing. Think of a creak in the dark. You freeze. You wait. And wait. It’s the waiting that’s unbearable. What you don’t know can hurt you.
The perspective is radically limited: We see everything through the video camera of Micah (Micah Sloat), a San Diego day trader. After his live-in girlfriend, Katie (Katie Featherston), reports noises in the night and a malevolent presence, he decides to document the goings-on. And that allows the director, Oren Peli, his one genius setup. Micah places the camera in their bedroom with a view of the bed and door and dark hall leading to the stairway. The couple turns off the light and goes to sleep. The image is pale, greenish and white. There’s a timer on the screen: 1:32 a.m. and 40 seconds … 41 … 42 … 43 … Then there’s a low rumble, faint sounds of walking or running. Sometimes Katie and Micah don’t wake up—they watch the footage the next day. Or there’s a thud and Micah jumps up and grabs the camera and hurries into the hall, a little orb of light illuminating a corner or railing. Or he points the camera down the stairs into the darkness. A medium gives the couple the name of a “demonologist,” but macho Micah wants to take care of this himself. He yells things into the dark like, “Is that all you got?” We want to yell to Katie, “Call the demonologist now, and dump the asshole!”Paranormal Activity is weakest when most explicit: A clear shadow or a door swinging shut dilutes the dread. But I’ve never seen a movie that so cunningly exploits our anticipation. Every time Peli cut to another bedtime and the timer appeared on the screen, I said out loud, “Oh, shit, here we go.” In the light of day, it’s all very silly and conventional. But of course we’re not talking about the light of day.