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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Paranormal Activity

What would you do if unseen forces started to harass you in the still of the night?

Micha and Katie are a happy couple living together, when they start to experience strange noises. Using a video camera he just bought, Micha is determined to catch whatever is disturbing them each night. What they both discover is something that may be related to Katie's childhood... and the entity that plagued her family...

"The Blair Witch Project", with its success in 1999, spawned a new category of horror film- the "Found Footage" style of film making.  Using "found footage", the story is told from the more "personal" look at the characters and the events surrounding them.  One such example is 2007's "Paranormal Activity", and in a world of YouTube video watching is a great example.

This supernatural horror movie is almost as low budget as you get: hand held video camera, cast working for $500.00, and the Director's home as the set. By doing this, the crew forces themselves to focus on the storytelling, and tell it they did- old school style.

The story is lean, and smartly crafted. The dialogue, having been mostly improvises flows naturally from the characters and their relationship to each other the chemistry between Micha and Katie is obvious and adds to the plausibility of the events that occur. The story grows and builds up in subtle and not so subtle ways until it's ultimate climax and scare.  Also, the story isn't typical in that it doesn't have a clear start or end.  The haunting actually starts before the action in the film, and is left open at the end- reflecting what real life would be like if you randomly started video taping it.  We don't have the whole story, just a part of it.  There are questions left unanswered for now- just like real life.

I was quite impressed with the acting of Micha Sloat, and Katie Featherston. They created likable, interesting characters that you can believe in. Katie in particular did a good job during some of the creepier moments. The scene of her standing by the bedside simply staring down at Micha was quite effective, and sticks out in my my mind.  A friend of mine has problems watching that scene because his wife sleepwalks... and will often stand and stare down at him like that.

The use of the single video camera was executed in a surprisingly good way- especially when limited to essentially one room. It was simple, but created the feeling that you were watching the video at home on the internet. The use of the black and white "night shot" function helped to create a mood of suspense and anticipation.

As for the scares? They start out as simple little things that make you wonder if you really saw what you thought you saw, and build to more overt and un-nerving frights. A thump here... a shadow there... a light turning on and off in the background... For me, it was the subtle things that really made this film enjoyable to watch. I was also impressed, as someone that actually studies the paranormal, with how closely the escalation of the disturbances matched actual reported cases.  I often had to rewind a scene because I was like, "WTF?  Did I just see what I thought I saw?".  Unlike most North American films- which are in your face with every scare, it's the small things, and the lack of extremeness that gives you the shivers.

So, turn off the lights, gather your popcorn, watch this Good rated movie...and just remember that you may not be alone when you do...

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