With a tell-all title like Paranormal Activity, one would expect Oren Pelia’s debut film to be scary. Instead, it falls short of even being considered a movie one could wet their pants on in fear. With all the hype building to this movie’s wider release, this movie is more on the disappointing side.
The story follows the soon-to-be-haunted lives of Micah and Katie (Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston). After a few years of dating, the happy couple decide to live together and own their own house.
When the haunting begins, Micah becomes obsessed with gathering evidence of what is terrorizing his home, and Katie begins to slowly go mad. She simply wants to have the haunting stop, so she doesn’t tell Micah that she had a “ghost” bother her in the past, a fact Micah doesn’t learn until it’s too late. When Katie discovers from a paranormal investigator that the spirit is really a demon, the evidence that Micah records only intensifies, and their relationship begins to deteriorate.
The personal terror the characters face is well-defined in the way they handle the camera. The shaky camera effect akin to movies like Cloverfield, and the immediacy of the events draws the audience into their world. But the effect becomes a headache after awhile and viewers will find reading the emotional distress of Micah and Katie impossible.
As for the ‘ghostly’ effects, the standard door opening on its own and hoof marks being made in powder does not elicit chills. If there is a ghost to be seen, it is certainly not going to manifest for Micah and Katie. And very rarely, if ever, do the supposed ghosts allow themselves to be recorded onto film. When it does happen there is always a sceptic to hack the evidence apart. Such simple tricks are paltry and only the uninitiated to the horror movie genre would react to it.
However, when compared to paranormal investigative television shows, like Ghost Hunters or Most Haunted, with people trying to get evidence, this movie delivers it all. A real ghost hunter would simply salivate at all the moving objects caught on camera and strange sounds recorded on tape.
Ultimately, however well Peli crafted the story and atmosphere of living in a haunted house, this movie comes across as pure fiction. All the camera effects, movement and sounds are designed to unsettle audiences. But to people groomed by classic ghost stories like Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and horror films like The Exorcist, this movie comes across as a mere joke.
And yet, there is something definitely scary in how difficult Micah and Katie find to keep their relationship strong during their time of crisis. Sometimes it is every man for himself and the two don’t get any outside help. An a typical alpha male, Micah believes he can handle it.
In the end, the only thing truly unsettling about this ghostly mockumentary is that it is giving the spirit world a bad name.