Have you met her permanent roommate?
And counting, man... AND counting! Number two at the box office, two years after its debut and two months after its USA Wide Release... and that's before its release outside of the good old You Ess of Aay... Factor in DVD and Blu Ray Releases, Re-Releases and the fact that the run is still far from over on more screens each week and you're looking at quite a cash-out for all involved! Impressive? Yes! Especially when you consider that the film was made on a budget of $15,000.
Now, in case you think I've left out a zero in one of my famous typographical errors, you read that right... that's fifteen THOUSAND dollars. Factor in the $300,000 that Paramount Pictures ponied up to buy the rights (reportedly after the enthusiastic and horrified response of one Steven Spielberg) and you're still looking at the most profitable independent film of all time so far.
Yes, this is quite a success story and is made even more so by the fact that this release was originally intended to be that of a remake. So effective was the original film with no stars and no marketable names involved that the original flick (with just a few tweaks) is the very one climbing the charts still. That is, unless you're reading this far in the future, in which case... I wonder if I'm dead.
In truth, it would be even more impressive if this Cinema Verite experiment was nearly as original as so many audience members purported it to be. In truth, this film is only the latest of a great many curiosities that were already making impacts before Cannibal Holocaust and Snuff were banned as Video Nasties. The phenomenon was already quite old by the time the very similarly themed The Blair Witch Project was so widely bought into! Cool movie, but original?
Paranormal Activity's success may make it just a bit more of a critical target, considering the number of eyes on the film now, compared to just how many might have seen it on the festival circuit. On a small scale it's an impressive thing... Considering its massive profit measure it's easy enough to walk out saying "Oh, that's it?" However, taking a look at this film without all the hype, it's easy to find it interesting, at least academically. Writer/ Director Oren Peli introduces us to Micah (Micah Sloat), a young, San Diego hipster who has a great house, a great life and has managed to win the heart and hand-to-be of the woman he loves!
That's great news, of course. The thing is, though, Katie (Katie Featherston) does come with her fair share of baggage. I know, I know, you're thinking, "What fiancée doesn't?", but Katie's is a little more serious than just an aversion to being tickled or annoying OCD traits. No, it seems that Micah's main squeeze is as haunted as 112 Ocean Avenue! And we're talking the whole 666 yards man, a serious demon with a nasty-ass mad-on and a bitchy little jealous streak. In that no matter where Cute Katie goes, the Anti-Lamb is sure to go, the old adage of "For God's Sake Get Out!" just isn't going to cut it, PAL! She's all "Tried it, hated it, moving on!"
While Katie has had a lifetime to accept (if not particularly like) the situation, Micah is shocked and intrigued enough to set up a high-def camera and film any and all of the "Paranormal Activity" that might go on in the place. Unfortunately for him (and for us) this activity does not include Katie naked, but hey...
What the camera catches can be frightening indeed, not because of any kind typical horror shocks and starts but because of the very realistic WEIRDNESS that permeates so many of the scenes here. Under Peli's direction, a simple movement or sound can evoke outright screams from the audience (and in the theatre I saw it in, that happened multiple times)! On paper a great deal of this hardly sounds terribly frightening, but the mood is set just right to provide for suspense and creepiness. A certain combustible Ouija Board springs easily to mind.
That said, an equal barrow load of this fright flick feels more than a little innocuous, no matter how stark and realistic it seems. No matter how quiet the background noise is, a sleepwalking scene is still little more than a sleepy person walking around and mumbling. No matter how dark the house is, a loud bang is more likely to piss me off or make me wonder if I failed to hang my framed Barney the Dinosaur poster just right or not. Then, at other times we're greeted with sequences of the film proudly showing us parts of itself we just saw as Micah imports the digital images on to his computer, then films himself showing Katie what he's taped. Kind of cool, yeah, but for a film that clocks in at less than 90 minutes, one would think they'd be a little more sensitive to padding. On the bright side, Peli might be able to just chillax during those parts of the director commentary, because Micah Sloat of the Clan Sloat has already got that bag-o-gags covered, man!
But again, what do you want from Paranormal Activity? Like many of the similar films before it, this one came out of nowhere and now has curious eyes all over it that were never expected. With a budget of fifteen grand this first time director's work is still, unquestionably, an Ultra-Indie, albeit one with an Uber-Audience now. The film has no real opening or closing credits, no major special effects and an ending that pops up with very little resolution and more ambiguity than anything else. Still, were this seen only on the festival circuit, nobody would really care about these lacking areas. Truth to tell, considering the fact that audiences are still demanding it and it's making its budget back on daily basis, clearly audiences don't care a whole hell of a lot about those things right now. Just self-serving weirdo movie critics, apparently.
Sadly for all those cash-in artists out there, lightening can only strike once... or, at least, once per decade when everybody's forgotten about the last Documentary Style horror flick. Too bad, too, considering that one only has to write the part of the script that is going to be caught on camera, right? Criticisms on backstory could scarcely apply, nor could any lack of tight ending be a valid complaint. The ambiguity is key... but to make it work you have to be ambiguous first... or first each decade. Sorry ASSylum, you'll have to rip someone else off!
So, is it just hype? No, there's definitely a good deal of suspense and uneasiness here due to the mood and the realism (which comes at the cost of an occasionally very shaky camera). It's a great discovery to make, of course, but when everybody from your neighbor's housekeeper to your cab driver's uncle to Walt the Postman has already discovered this gem, you aren't exactly going to be the unique kid on the block. Any way you shake it, Paranormal Activity is worth a look and worth somewhere around Three Stars out of Five! That's better than the all-too-similar Blair Witch Project, but not quite up to fellow underground-hits-big flicks like Diary of the Dead or District 9! It is, admittedly, a lot better than the recent video I shot on my camera phone of myself singing "I Feel You" and drumming my steering wheel while driving down the San Diego Freeway at 80 miles per hour. Hey, I'll admit I didn't make a great short there, but it does come with one lovely dedication! See you in the next reel, paranormalcy advocates!
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