Soon after moving into a suburban tract home, Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) become increasingly disturbed by what appears to be a supernatural presence. Hoping to capture evidence of it on film, they set up video cameras in the house but are not prepared for the terrifying events that follow.
Found footage horror movies are usually considered to be incredibly tame and generic nowadays. Ever since the massive phenomenon that was The Blair Witch Project that was released in 1999, so many filmmakers have tried to replicate that film’s success, but rarely do they get the reactions they hope for.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some genuinely excellent found-footage horror flicks out there such as Rec, Creep, and Cloverfield to name a few, but a large portion of these movies end up being extremely bland, jump-scare filled disasters that don’t have anything to offer.
With that being said, however, these movies make a ton of money at the box office. There is something so enticing to mainstream audiences about watching a film that feels real because it is presented as a real situation thanks to the shaky video-camera style filmmaking on display. Horror movies that try to make everything seem genuine like in The Blair Witch Project capture the curiosity of viewers, and therefore, people will go out to see it and as a result, the movie makes lots of money. Surprisingly enough though, there has been a noticeable decline in the amount of found footage horror movies being released in the past few years. Perhaps studios are finally noticing that a ton of people are growing bored with them and they are going back to the drawing board.
But, one of the most iconic and influential films in this genre has to be Paranormal Activity, directed by Oren Peli. When this film came out, I was just seven years old and so I didn’t go to the theatre to see it back then. Not only did I not want to go see it because I was ridiculously scared by just looking at the commercials on television, but even if I had wanted to see it, my parents probably wouldn’t have let me, and for good reason.
All these years later, and I still have not seen the first Paranormal Activity in its entirety. I have seen some clips throughout the years but that’s about it. Plus, for some strange reason, I do remember going to see the fifth installment in the franchise, The Marked Ones, in the theatre with my best friend despite us never having seen the previous entries.
So I figured now would be as good a time as ever to finally see why the first entry in the series is so highly regarded and why it is so influential. Now that I have seen it, I have to say – I have no idea why this film is so highly praised. It’s not abysmal or anything, but really, there is nothing special or unique that this movie does that makes it stand out from the cluttered pile of found footage horror movies.
In truth, this is an eighty-six-minute film that has only about five minutes of actual “scary” content, whereas the rest is scene after scene of the main couple bickering with each other about hearing bizarre noises in their house in the middle of the night.
There are some moments of true suspense and tension every once in a while, but they are so few and far between that I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed the movie overall. Maybe Paranormal Activity was much creepier to watch in the theatre, but watching it at home isn’t a whole lot of fun, unfortunately.
However, I have to admit that this film uses its incredibly small budget of just fifteen thousand dollars astoundingly well. That’s a budget you almost never hear of in the industry these days. When was the last time you saw a movie in the theatre that was made for a couple of thousand dollars? Probably Paranormal Activity.
Despite the fact that I didn’t enjoy the movie in the long run, the things that Peli was able to pull off during production is extremely impressive. He actually took whatever money he could and did his best to make a horror movie that ended up being a cultural phenomenon that spawned numerous sequels, with a seventh film on the way in 2022.
It’s definitely not for everyone (like myself), but there is something to be said about a film made for fifteen thousand dollars going on to become one of the most famous horror franchises in recent memory.
Although it uses its incredibly small budget in impressive ways, Paranormal Activity simply falls flat when it comes to delivering chilling scares.
Overall Grade: C
MPAA Rating: R for language
Directed by: Oren Peli
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: October 14, 2007 (Screamfest), September 25, 2009
Running Time: 86 minutes