Studio: Paramount Studios
US Rating: Unrated / R
Film Length: 86 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 – Enhanced for Widescreen TVs – 1080p High Definition
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Subtitles: English, French and Spanish
Release Date: December 29, 2009
Review Date: January 9, 2010
“Well, whatever it is that's following me, it doesn't feel... it doesn't feel human. It feels like it's... it feels like a monster. I mean like, it wants to hurt me.”
The Film: 3.5 out of 5
With a monstrously clever and successful marketing campaign, which focused on frightened faces in darkened theaters, Paranormal Activity became quite the phenomenon. By daring people to watch the film, and participate in an effort to have the ‘little film that could’ be released nationally, word of mouth helped propel this small film, budgeted at around $11K, (which had made the film festival rounds since it was completed in 2006), to a wildly successful run and a domestic gross of over $107MM. A feat like that cannot be anything but celebrated.
Micah and Katie are by all appearances a typical suburban couple who live together in San Diego. We meet them just as Micah has brought home a new video camera – a camera he intends to use to catch some evidence of whatever is making the strange noises in the house at night that the couple is hearing. The home setting, and domestic interplay between the boyfriend/girlfriend couple, are given time to unfold comfortably during the first act. Some may considere that time dull, but it actually serve as a disarming, normalizing, and acclimating effect (even while the characters set up the premise for us). Micah haphazardly documents the couple during the day, and sets up the camera in their bedroom overnight as they sleep – which he then reviews the next day. As the nights pass, and the evidence mounts that there is indeed some kind of paranormal activity taking place, the tensions between the young couple begin to rise, nerves become frayed, and the options for what the couple can do begin to dwindle.
Filmed entirely in the hand-held, home-made style that 1999’s Blair Witch Project used to great effect (and subsequently films such as 2007’s [REC], its American Remake Quarantine, and 2008’s Cloverfield relied upon), the ‘found-footage’ feel serves up the scares nicely. And the film is scary – just not the whirlwind of frights you may be expecting. Part of that could very well be the in-home experience. Theatrical experiences inevitably heighten emotional responses. The group experience (when not being ruined by talkers, cell-phones, and other distractions) can make a good time better. In the privacy of the home, however, what should be a more unsettling location for this film actually seems to dampen the effectiveness of the chills. Outside of the theater, Paranormal Activity’s true power is diminished.
Part of Paranormal Activities’ appeal is the underdog story; a small film with a smaller budget enjoying the kind of success that effects heavy behemoths require. But does the film actually live up to its hype? Well, yes and no. While it certainly does not come close to being able to claim the ‘scariest movie ever’ title lauded upon it from various quarters, it succeeds in generating genuine goose-bump raising chills, and when it strikes, it strikes hard. But surprisingly those moments are limited, and by function of an ominous rumbling, we are made privy of an upcoming ‘moment’ where some paranormal activity will take place. However, despite the tip-off, that supernatural moment still remains effective. When it gets it right, Paranormal Activity will give you good reason to pull a pillow close, turn down the sound, turn up the lights – or whatever your personal ritual for dealing with chilling horror movie tension.
Paranormal Activity falls shy of being a horror movie revelation. The simplicity of the story, and the feat of not relying on obnoxious teens as disposable fodder for whatever the killer, chiller, monster or ghouls is central to conjuring the scares, raises the film a step above. A few plot contrivances (why does the one person that could help them just happen to be out of town?) and decisions made by the principle players that may very well have you arguing with your television, do seem to weigh the overall film down.
The Video: 4 out of 5
The 1080p High Definition presentation, framed in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, seems like overkill for what is designed to be a film of consumer quality found footage. The image is free of processing issues and is flawed in the ways we expect it to be (for footage from a home camera). The 4 rating is essentially for producing the image exactly is it should look. A slick image would have betrayed the consumer quality camera footage from this average suburban couple, and any unnatural sharpening would have stood out like a sore thumb. But do you needs this in HD? Not really. Undoubtedly the image is sharper (and as Robert Harris notes in his “A Few Words About…” thread, the black levels likely a bit better) – and the audio finer, but beyond this, a standard DVD image will likely be satisfactory.
The Sound: 3.5 out of 5
Paranormal Activity on Blu-Ray comes with an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track – and for the majority of the films short 86 minute running time, that doesn’t mean a very much. Even when the ominous rumble starts, and the woofer clears its throat, the audio won’t suck you in. But the audio doesn’t need to envelop in the way that it did for Cloverfield or Quarantine; the simple, prudent use of sounds – mainly in the fronts, and a little in the surrounds, seems to do what is needed just fine.
The Extras: 2 out of 4
(Theatrical Version and ) Unrated Version with Alternate Ending Never Seen In Theaters: The theatrical ending is far superior. The disc allows you to watch the theatrical and alternate endings independent of the film.
A Digital Copy of the Theatrical Version: For use with your iPod, Mac, and PC.
Paranormal Activity is a good scary movie. It isn’t game changing, but it certainly is an entertaining ghostly tale that takes itself seriously and will take you by surprise on more than one occasion. The ending is especially satisfying and well worth the wait. The character of Micah will likely grate some nerves as he too often defies logic – but in the context of watching an average couple deal with something abnormal, and make poor choices along the way, it seems to make sense.
This haunted house tale effectively pulls you in for a ride. Short, creepy, entertaining, and original enough to feel different, you won’t lose any sleep, but you will surely have something interesting to talk about.
Overall Score 3.5 out of 5