Sunday, January 24, 2010

Film Review: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2009, Oren Peli)

Stars: 3.8 of 5.
Running Time: 86 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat.
Best one-liner: [Micah's efforts to rile up the spirit in true Dubya, "Bring it on" fashion:] "What is your quest? What is your favorite color?"

This is no horror masterpiece, but it's an effective, minimalist chiller helmed by (Oren Peli) a clear aficionado of the "BOO!" genre. It doesn't really bring anything new to the table, and the acting may not always be first-rate, but you know you've used your $15,000 budget well when you have an audience anticipating the slightest change in a static image with baited breath. It’s almost as if you enter into a contract with this film to 'be more attentive,' and this even goes beyond the lengthy sleeping scenes. For example, at one point the characters leave the room, but a Ouija board ominously remains on the table. Surely something supernatural is about to happen. You wait. You're afraid you're going to blink and miss it, so you're scrutinizing the screen with wide-eyed, "Where's Waldo" intensity. And that's exactly it- PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is to films what "Where's Waldo" is to books! You're happy to spend a little time on it (86 minutes), you're certainly engaged for the duration, and the payoffs beget a sort of trifling satisfaction, but, at the end of the line, you're not taking anything away from it (nor should you!).

Regardless, the theatrical ending (changed apparently at the behest of Steven Spielberg, and involving a soggy J-Horror climax... and a CGI ghoul-morph!) is considerably weaker than the alternate ending on the DVD (which evidently made the rounds at a festival screening), so I wholeheartedly recommend the latter.

In terms of 'characters with a video camera' horror, I still prefer [•REC] and DIARY OF THE DEAD, but I must admit that every time I think this shakycam horse is dead, there’s another twitch, another few muscle spasms, and somebody like Oren Peli gets in a few more good licks. So- nearly four stars.

[However, unfortunately for us, now that Paramount has got their hooks into the 'PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise" (not to mention a CLOVERFIELD sequel), that horse may have a few postmortem beatdowns in store.]

-Sean Gill

Musical side note: And I think excellent closing credits music would've been a rousing rendition of Heart's "These Dreams."

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