There are certain types of movies for which it makes a huge difference whether you see it in a theater or at home on your television. I knew Paranormal Activity would be one of those movies that really needed to be seen in the theater, so I was upset when I realized it had come and quickly left our local theaters last year. So when the Art Theater (a local theater house in Champaign, Illinois) advertised a special late-night showing of this movie, I jumped at the chance. I jumped at the movie too, but that’s coming later.
You’ve heard, no doubt, about the seven-day shooting time…the low budget…the inevitable comparisons to the Blair Witch Project…. I suppose if I were a more thorough reviewer, I might re-watch Blair Witch to adequately compare the two. However, I have another movie on deck for tonight, so I will have to settle for describing this one solely on its own.
I understood going in that much of this movie would serve simply as a set-up for the scary parts, and I was okay with that. The characters were as stock as you could get, and I found quite a lot of the dialogue beyond predictable…sometimes even funny in how obvious it was. But again, it’s a contrast to the action to come. And in fact, it actually adds a layer of terror to the overall film–the idea being that if something so terrifying could happen to people so ordinary, it could most certainly happen to YOU.
Truthfully, there was little if anything actually seen in this movie that was particularly terrifying. But if you’re someone with an overactive imagination (like me), you have no problem filling in the blanks. There were certain ideas in the story which, while seeming just odd instead of scary, were portrayed in such a way as to let you know that Something Wasn’t Right Here. I’m think in particular of a scene where Katie gets out of bed, turns around, and stands there staring at the bed–for hours. Sounds…well, boring. Looks…damned creepy. And I will admit it was interesting to see how Katie’s demeanor changed over time; I found myself wondering often how much of the “paranormal” she might be causing herself, in one way or another. By the time the pseudo-psychic was brought in for the second time, and even HE knew that Something Wasn’t Right Here, we all knew our hero and heroine were pretty much up a creek. Suffice to say, the ending very firmly confirmed that. You know the scenes so often found in movies where a person is just walking along minding their own business, and then they get run over by a car? The end of this movie was kind of like that.
Little things made this movie the overall experience I had been hoping for: the complete absence of a soundtrack (expected, of course, but still great for building tension); the subtle coloring of the night-vision footage of the bedroom, which was more black-and-white than the overly bright green you might find on Ghost Hunters or something similar; subtle facial expressions at just the right moment (if you’ve seen it, you know what I mean). Most importantly, the presence of the audience around me added another layer to the experience. There were times when we were all chuckling about the rather obvious dialogue and storyline given to the main couple; by the end, we were chuckling that nervous chuckle that is so much like whistling to chase your fears away. Paranormal Activity is, to me, something like a rollercoaster. It’s probably pretty enjoyable by yourself, but it’s something entirely different when you have other people around you.
I have to admit, I was seriously creeped out by the time this was all over. Thank goodness I had gone with some friends who also wanted to stand outside the theater and visit a bit before heading home. And thank goodness also to an understanding husband who stayed up to watch some mindless television with me until I felt like I was okay with turning off the lights and going to bed. Will I rent this movie on DVD and watch it at home? Probably not by myself. But hey, I went out for a fright and that’s exactly what I got.
(By the way, if you’re a fellow C-U resident, you should know that the Art Theater is planning other late-night scary/quirky semi-mainstream flicks in the coming weeks, like Donnie Darko and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, as well as other undiscovered or “so bad it’s good” movies. I don’t know about you, but I will definitely be there!)