See the young couple Katie and Micah. Katie and Micah are scared to go to bed. Why are they scared to go to bed? Because a demon is after her. The demon goes BUMP and makes weird sounds in the night. The demon clearly has no manners at all.
Here is a demon image taken from an old woodcut. At one point in Paranormal Activity, Micah flips through a book of pictures much like this one to show what they are up against. Scary, scary demon that makes noises in the night.
See the cat. Our cat's name is Darcy. Darcy makes all of the loud noises at night in our household. Darcy is basically an evil punk who was raised in a feed bucket, but I digress.
See the scared filmgoers. The filmgoers are frightened because of the gradual way the demon goes after poor Katie and Micah. The filmgoers lined up to watch Paranormal Activity at midnight in sold out shows in select theaters across the US. Perhaps people scare easily when staying up that late. Paranormal Activity has been called "The most frightening film ever made!" Now that's savvy marketing.
Here is Oren Peli. Peli is the Israeli-born videogame designer who wrote, directed, and edited Paranormal Activity. He found Micah and Katie after a marathon casting session in Hollywood yielded about 150 applicants. Then, for a mere $15,000 he shot the film in a week in his suburban tract home. He didn't even change the names of the actors. Now that is what I call cheap.
See Micah with his fancy camera. The camera is the real star of Paranormal Activity. Like so many others, Micah and Katie are exhibitionists. As Warren Beatty said to Madonna in her Truth or Dare (1991) concert film, "Why say anything if it is not on camera?" Now everyone can be on camera all of the time. Micah often asks Katie if he can film their "extra-curricular activities." At times, the extra-curricular activities seem more important to Micah than the paranormal activities. And, ultimately, Katie gets annoyed and tells him "Turn off the f-ing camera!" As if being tormented by a demon wasn't bothersome enough.
Here is Linda Blair possessed by a demon in The Exorcist. Peli acknowledges the influence of The Exorcist when he has Micah play spooky music reminiscent of the 1973 horror film. In The Exorcist, Linda Blair's character curses, rages, and hurls abuse at her mother, in other words, a realistic portrayal of a teenage girl.
Here is Heather Donahue freaking out in The Blair Witch Project (1999), another dirt-cheap horror film with a clever marketing campaign. The Blair Witch Project is an obvious influence on Paranormal Activity, only the two directors of Blair Witch kept their actors awake at night in the woods at length, and didn't tell them what would happen next, and generally tormented them on video until they really were freaked out. Unfortunately, in Paranormal Activity, Peli relies on Katie's and Micah's acting.
Here are Katie and Micah acting. They are also sleep-deprived, but still unaccountably not leaving the house, after the demon torments them for days. Katie says things like "It's getting worse," and "I'm nervous," and "Something's wrong," and "I can feel it watching me right now." Katie is an English major planning on becoming a teacher someday. I kept hoping she would recite lines from The Mysteries of Udolpho, but no such luck.
Eventually, things start getting really bad for Micah and Katie. (Spoiler alert) The demon messes up Micah's Ouija board, demonic paw prints appear in the baby powder, and Katie has difficulty studying for her English test.
I made the mistake of seeing the movie on a Saturday afternoon with a restless audience. A little boy kept saying "Oh man, oh man, oh man," as his mother tried to shush him, and a girl kept hopping up and down the stairs by the seats. At the climax of the film, two women behind me laughed, and one said, (I'm not making this up): "The most frightening film ever made, my ass!"
Next time I'll watch Paranormal Activity with a sold out crowd at midnight.
notes on Paranormal Activity 2