Halloween Review: Paranormal Activity

This film has been creeping around in variant forms since 2007, and recently received its big-screen release. Some consider it the scariest movie of all time. It has also just become the most profitable, thanks to its very small budget and terrific gross. I found that it fell short of the hype, but it does provide a disturbing experience and raises some uncomfortable thoughts about how well we know the people and places closest to us.

Audience members who grew nauseous during Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project will be relieved to hear that this film features far less shaky-cam. Someone finally realized that, just because a character captures your movie on camcorder, that character doesn’t have to suffer from epilepsy or palsy.

Paranormal Activity

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Written and directed by Oren Peli


Katie Featherston as Katie
Micah Sloat as Micah
Mark Fredrichs as the Psychic
Amber Armstrong as Amber

Full Cast and Crew information is available at the imdb


A couple begin recording the strange phenomena occurring in their house, which the woman believes to be a demonic force that has stalked her for years.

High Points:

The film plays sinisterly off most familiar childhood fears, and balances the creepiness with some entertaining interaction, as this most ordinary-seeming of couples deal with the impossible.

The film’s familiar setting plays a key role in bringing the supernatural terror home, but the movie also features moments of plausible chills. People close to us may hide things within that we do not suspect, and which do not bode well for us. Some people demonstrate unexplained or unexpected shifts of personality and behavior. Paranormal Activity also evokes these fears.

Low Points:

Shouldn’t these people be more disturbed by what they observe? How do they fall asleep so easily? And does Micah ever work at his job as a day trader? The actors perform well, but the characters’ problematic psychology occasionally took me out of the film.

Paranormal Activity has two alternate endings, which have been used in festivals and will doubtless be available on DVD. I cannot help but think that either would have made a better ending than the one we saw. Accounts may be found here and here. (WARNING: those links contain spoilers).

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6. The film combines elements that have appeared in many other horror films and stories. Paranormal Activity reasonably might be pitched as Poltergeist meets The Blair Witch Project. It takes its plot from hundreds of supposed supernatural occurrences in which Demonic Forces from Beyond dedicate their vast powers to producing really weenie and easily-faked phenomena that upset the lives of ordinary people for no discernible reason. (Of course, we see the activity happening here, so we know it’s not faked. Except that itss a movie, and so it is).

Effects: 5/6. The minimal, low-level effects work perfectly fine. Let’s face it: much of the time, CGI still looks like CGI.

Story: 4/6. As with The Exorcist, I’ll accept the problematic motives of demonic forces for the sake of the story, which develops nicely. It runs a little longer, however, than I felt the premise could sustain.

Acting: 6/6. Despite my objection, noted under “Low Points,” this remains an effectively, naturally-acted film.

Production: 5/6.

Emotional Response: 5/6. This film features some tense, fearful moments. Some people in the audience reacted far more strongly than I did. Others remained unimpressed.

Overall: 5/6. Like Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity shows that good filmcrafting isn’t about overblown budgets and overpaid, physically-enhanced celebrities, and good horror isn’t about boundary-shredding gore and torture.

In total, Paranormal Activity receives 33/42.

That ends this year’s Halloween Countdown. Best of the Scary Season to all!