Sometimes when I watch a movie again years after it was released, it doesn’t always stand the test of time. The special effects might appear hokey, or it might be a storyline that would be crushed with a tool as simple as a mobile phone.
Maybe I’m alone in my thinking, but I felt like Paranormal Activity is still full of fun scares. It’s similar to Blair Witch Project in that we, the viewers, are supposed to believe we’re watching found film footage, not a scripted movie. Because it’s in this niche of found footage, I believe that gives Paranormal Activity staying power.
In Paranormal Activity, Katie and Micah are experiencing what might be a haunting in their townhouse. Katie explains that this has been happening for as long as she can remember, that the haunting follows her. Micah is a little annoyed that she didn’t mention the bit about being a ghost magnet before they started living together.
They decide to film what’s happening day to day and even record in the bedroom while they sleep. This approach works well to build up tension because there are sounds, for example, that take place well off camera. That’s a terrific plan for a tight movie-making budget since you don’t have to show anything scary for most of the film.
Noises, footprints, and even a photo found in the attic build up the creepy layers, but we haven’t seen the ghost or poltergeist or whatever might be haunting Katie and the home she shares with Micah. For me, this works well in the same way that the movie Jaws created tension. It’s allowing the viewer’s imagination to fill in the blanks. Perhaps that fails with folks who have no imagination, but for my whirling scary-go-round brain, filling in my own blanks is a major scare.
As a fan of scary movies, I was absolutely livid that Micah wanted to use a Ouija board. Has he really never seen any scary movies? This NEVER works out well, and it doesn’t work out well for Katie and Micah either.
Random side note: I was irritated by the pronunciation of “Micah” as “Meeka” instead of with a long “I” sound. I listened to several recordings of how to pronounce the name in English, and they all had the long i. Picky? Maybe, but it’s one of those pesky things that will break my interest in a movie. All they had to do was give him a name like “Scott” and there would have been no problem!
The big ending (spoilers!) mostly happens off camera. Again, this works because we believe that this is found footage. Micah’s body is thrown at the camera, knocking the camera down. We’re treated, at long last, to a glimpse of the demon, now making itself comfy in Katie. Totally scary when demon-possessed Katie screams and lunges at the camera to end the movie.
Paranormal Activity still holds up. The timing of the thumps, bumps, footsteps, and so on just builds and builds until it explodes into a demonic possession. Is it a profound artistic masterpiece? No way, but it’s still a reliable movie for startling scares without gore or crazy effects.