Plot: After moving into a suburban home, a couple becomes increasingly disturbed by a nightly demonic presence – Paranormal Activity
Director – Oren Peli
Released: November 2009
Back when Paranormal Activity first came out, I ended up seeing the film in the cinema three times with different people. It was a pretty movie at the time and became one of the most profitable of all time. Sure the sequels were mostly just rehashes of the same plot and the scares became predictable, but back in ’09, it felt like we had finally been given a cultural successor to Blair Witch Project, which also suffered from below par sequels.
We have all watched terrible found-footage films in the past, usually made on the show-string budget and filled with the worst horror cliches, but here Peli accomplishes the improbable for just $20k, a film that doesn’t copy previous found-footage films and also manages to create tension from the simplest of actions and not doing anything that feels improbable.
Herein lies the route to the film’s success, simple doesn’t always mean good. But clear to see that Peli understands that the key to a good scare is realism and has made a film that takes everyday occurrences such as the movement of a door or a gust of wind to create a heightened sense of reality and in the process an atmosphere of dread that’s usually lacking in films of this type.
But perhaps the biggest element of the film’s success is the performance by Katie Featherston. Reminding me of Heather Donahue in Blair Witch, she manages to overcome the curse of found-footage films and make the character memorable, with the writing helping to further back that up, at no point do you feel the character is doing anything that you wouldn’t, until the ending that is.
I fully understand why a good deal of might write this film off or moan due to its lack of action, however, I feel the best found-footage films are the ones that stick to slowly increasing the terror and leaving the jump scares to more conventional horror films. After all, showing as little as possible leaves more to our imagination, and with that lets us create something more terrifying than the makers can think of.
This isn’t The Shining or The Exorcist level of quality, but as far as horror movies go, Paranormal Activity is simple, effective, and one of the more memorable and re-watchable entries made in the ’00s. One that proves that once in a while small budget and a good idea can be just as effective at keeping glued to the screen and scaring you as big-budget Hollywood productions. It’s best to just forget Ghost Dimension and The Marked Ones ever happened.