Release Date(s)2009 (December 29, 2009)
Movies about the supernatural tend to be a bit of a gamble for moviegoers, especially these days. If the audience isn’t convinced by what they’re seeing on the screen, the movie will more than likely fail from its own weaknesses. The same could be said of films from all genres, of course, but when it comes to movies about ghosts and demons, you really have to stay on your toes to make get an audience’s attention without distraction. You also have to genuinely creep them out along the way if you can.
On the other hand, you also have to get your movie out there and get people to see it. In perhaps one of the most genius marketing schemes ever, Paranormal Activity found its audience by simply “allowing” them to decide whether or not to bring it to them. All you had to do was visit a web site, tell the studio you wanted to see the movie in your area and PRESTO! The vast majority of moviegoers were suckered into this campaign, making a little independent $15,000 horror movie into a million dollar phenomenon... but enough of the hype.
The plot of the movie is very simple: a suburban couple spends three weeks trying to get evidence on video of the paranormal activities taking place in their home. It’s a really simple idea of the filmmakers allowing the characters walk around with the camera equipment, letting the story unfold on its own and later promote it as ‘found footage.’ It’s nothing new, of course. The Blair Witch Project did the same thing years ago and was just as successful, which started the trend. Add to that some cheap special effects and creepy ambience in the audio and you’ve got yourself a hit horror film. Paranormal Activity takes advantage of the classic Hitchcock notion that it’s what you don’t see that frightens you the most. There’s almost no blood, violence, gore or even an elaborate CGI monster in the entire film. It plays very slowly and builds up the tension, which is mostly a good thing. Most horror films being made today tend to rush through their story without building up any suspense, and when the scares do kick in, you’re already anticipating them. You should instead be caught completely off guard, which is what this movie attempts to do. I think that if you’re in the right environment, free from distraction (talking, cell phones, etc) and you actually watch the movie, you’ll probably get something out of it.
Shot with a hand-held HD camera, the video quality is about what you’d expect. It’s like watching a high quality home movie, for the most part. Utilizing a digital to digital transfer, there’s little to complain about in the way of flaws. We see a good 40% of the movie in black and white and the other 60% in color, and it all looks just fine to me. On the audio side, the English 5.1 DTS-HD soundtrack is very well mixed for a film with such a meager budget. The subtlest of sounds (whispers, creaking, squeaking) draw you in and the louder ones (bangs, screams) jump out at you. It’s a very clean and well-balanced soundtrack. There’s also a Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital track, and subtitles in English, French & Spanish for those who might need them.
Unfortunately, the disc is very sparse in the way of extras. You only get two: a digital copy of the movie and an alternate ending (with the option of watching it with the movie). There was also another alternate ending that was on the film before being bought by DreamWorks, but unfortunately, that didn’t make this release. It can be found online quite easily if you’re curious to see it. The ending that’s actually on the film really devalues the whole experience, and the alternate ending that’s on the disc works much better. Not because of the blood, but more because of the build-up and the tragedy of it all. Check it out and you’ll understand what I mean.
Paranormal Activity definitely aims to scare a crowd of people, and I think it does that ok. I don’t often get creeped out by horror movies, mainly because once you’ve seen so many, and understand how they work, you tend to get desensitized by them. Overall, it was definitely better than I thought it would be. It’s also much easier to swallow than the plethora of sequels that followed. There’s no question that the viral marketing campaign and the word of mouth got the movie to where it is, but the hype won’t ruin the experience for you.
- Tim Salmons