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Paranormal Activity (2007) **

December 29, 2009

written by: Oren Peli
produced by: Steven Schneider &  Jason Blum
directed by: Oren Peli
rated R (for language)
99 min.
U.S release date: September 25, 2009
DVD/Bluray release date: December 29, 2009
Recently, I was able to watch this fall’s indie hit “Paranormal Activity”, the Paramount/DreamWorks haunted house/demon possession chiller that made a ton of money. I rented the DVD, prepared my home atmosphere by turning out all lights and waiting till everyone else was asleep. I was told by many that this would be the scariest movie I would ever see. Therefore, I wanted my setting to be just right in order to properly scare the jammies off me.
Well, that didn’t work. While there were some tense and creepy moments, the movie developed into a grating annoyance as it went on and on and on. Clearly, it did not have the same effect on me as it did hundreds of test audience viewers or all the midnight screening participants. I’m sure seeing it for the first time with no word-of-mouth, knowing very little going in, would’ve been the idea way to see this modestly budgeted fright fest. I’m sure of it, because that was not my experience.

The movie revolves around a presumably ordinary young couple, Micah (Micah Sloat) and Katie (Katie Featherston), who both wind up dealing with an extraordinary situation. It takes a while, but Katie eventually convinces skeptical Micah that their San Diego home is haunted. Instead of moving out of there immediately, they do what any sensible couple would, they purchase a video camera and record any possible nocturnal activity. Who knows what they will do with anything legitimate they find? Numerous hours of them sleeping are recorded in order to capture whatever ghostly presence is with them. Days pass by and they have experts brought to give their opinion on the “activity” in their home. Still, nothing definitive comes from it all. The frustration and the bickering between Micah and Katie grows as they only find a minimal amount of disturbances on their playback. Despite the lack of clear evidence, the strange noises and the movement of inanimate objects remain, which results in added stress and terror for the helpless couple. 
The audience is shown footage that the local police find and it does actually find some disturbing images. Some intentional, some not so much. While we are left to wonder what or who is haunting these two, unfortunately we’re also subjected to the whining and flirting of a couple that is becoming more and more fearful….and annoying. There, I said it.
As the palpable tension builds, I found myself unable to get invested in these two characters or the proposed danger they were in. Part of that is due to the amateur feel the two leads exude. It felt like they were trying way too hard to convey both themselves as “a couple” and portray an atmosphere of alarm. In doing so,  it came across entirely artificial. For a story that is supposed to simulate a “based on a true story”, having the two leads come across as community theater mainstays is a big mistake.
The film takes a serious nosedive when we see the couple making one of the most overdone moves in the genre. They pull out a Ouija board. If the goal is reality, then here’s where the screenwriters fail. If the goal was to showcase two dimbulb characters dealing with a possible life-threatening situation in the most illogical way. For them to use a Ouija board means one of them believes there is a demonic or satanic presence in their home. So, why would they want to communicate with it then? Well, because one of them is flippant about the whole situation, while the other one is clearly more effected by all the strange happenings. The inclusion of the board is so “old hat” that it falls entirely flat.
Regardless of any weak acting or plot devices here, a movie like this will succeed when the suspense is felt and must seem real. The home movie approach does provide a creepy sensation with its jolts and shocks. At times, director Oren Peli makes choices that may seem formulaic but they actually do work, except when he leaves us viewing the night-time footage through the mounted camera at the foot of the couple’s bed.
As the time stamp on the screen rolls into the wee small hours of the morning, I lost interest. This sleeping footage only works for a short amount of time. There were long stretches where it felt like nothing at all was happening, so I found myself doing something I never do….I fast-forwarded to a point where it seemed like something was actually happening. This obviously tells me that the best way to watch this type of movie would be in a theater with little knowledge of what lies ahead.
While Peli does a solid job slowly building up the tension, it just doesn’t move along quickly enough. If I am watching something like this and find myself getting bored and wishing whatever is haunting these two would “get on with it already”, that’s a problem. I shouldn’t think that. I should be so sucked in by it all, that I am lost, curious, and then thoroughly shocked. None of that happened here.

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