Despite being a paranormal investigator myself, I managed to avoid the film Paranormal Activity for nearly 12 years. There really wasn’t a particular reason for that. It just happened that in the midst of my numerous horror movie binges, it didn’t come up. I remember the release of this film well. I was in high school. It seemed everyone was talking about it, and if there was a film that could be considered the first to “go viral” at a time when social media was limited, this would be it. Commercials on television showed less of the movie and more of the people watching it in theaters. We would see close-ups of moviegoers freaking out. They shrieked in horror at what was on screen. Some burst into tears. Stories were told of people running out of the theater because they couldn’t take it anymore. Could it be that Paranormal Activity would be this generation’s Exorcist?
I am now two days removed from finally seeing it, and I have spent this time contemplating what actually made those people freak out. To be frank, there is only one genuine jump-scare in the entire film, and it comes in the final seconds. For the first 85.5 minutes, we see nothing. We are forced to rely on our sense of hearing (the entities are plaguing a couple in their home and strike with hums, loud bangs, footsteps, and creaky floorboards) and our sense of sympathy for the victims who seemingly did nothing to deserve the haunting that is ruining their lives. And while Paranormal Activity certainly is down-to-earth, we are also subjected to borderline horrific acting and dialogue. It took only 10 days to film, and the script itself was probably written in less time than that. It shows.
Is there tension and build-up? Hardly so. The noises intensify, there is a somewhat eerie scene of a Ouija board spelling out something on its own and then mysteriously catching fire. There is another moment of intrigue when an item is discovered in the attic which has no business being there. But these are ruined by the movie’s repetitive nature and crummy acting. The dialogue, even if it is supposed to be just “normal chatter” between people at home, is abysmal.
This is a “found footage” movie after all, with the husband of the duo acting as the filmmaker much to the dismay of his wife. If The Blair Witch Project is the grandfather of the genre, than this is no-doubt the father. Made at a time when most horror movies were not found footage, this probably lended to the shock-value audiences were experiencing at the time. Perhaps the surround sound system added uneasiness with the loud bangs and door slams, but nothing comes anywhere near the sheer terror this film advertised in 2007. Viewing it now, after a decade-plus of low-budget and easy-to-produce found footage horror movies, Paranormal Activity does not stand out amongst any of them.
There is no frightening imagery. Half the film is shot in nightvision. The acting sucks, even for found footage standards. There are scenes minutes long where we do nothing but watch the couple sleep while shadows move down the hallway behind their bedroom door and noises are heard. These scenes are so long, in fact, that it causes us to wonder why, when 95% of the activity is occurring outside of the bedroom, do they not ever once close the God damned door?
I’ll give them credit for trying and for ushering in something new. And for making well over $100 million on a less than $15,000 budget. It is just a shame that all of such films to follow have managed to be even more horrid. If there was anything appealing about this movie 12 years ago, it is all but lost to time. 4 out of 10.