Paranormal Activity (2007)

R   |    |  Horror, Mystery, Thriller


Paranormal Activity (2007) Poster

After moving into a suburban home, a couple becomes increasingly disturbed by a nightly demonic presence.


6.3/10
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  • Katie Featherston in Paranormal Activity (2007)
  • Ashley Palmer in Paranormal Activity (2007)
  • Katie Featherston in Paranormal Activity (2007)
  • Katie Featherston in Paranormal Activity (2007)
  • Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat at an event for Paranormal Activity (2007)
  • Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat in Paranormal Activity (2007)

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28 September 2009 | RichardSRussell-1
7
| Best Bargain in the Basement
Paranormal Activity (R, 1:29) — Fantasy: Supernatural, bargain basement, original

"Significance" is one of several dimensions I use to categorize SF&F films. It refers to the amount of resources — writing, acting, sets, costumes, effects, promotion, etc. — thrown into any particular movie, and I drop things into 4 pigeonholes: biggie, 2nd string, 3rd string, and bargain basement.

Earlier this week I put The Age of Stupid into the last of these (movies that could have been made in somebody's basement), but Paranormal Activity is even basementier. In fact, compared to its siblings, The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, it may be the basementiest feature film ever released. You could make 10 of these for what Transformers probably blew on latex alone.

But that brings us to the "bargain" part. Dollar for dollar, you get about a zillion times more entertainment out of Paranormal Activity than you do out of even good blockbusters like Iron Man, let alone such overblown, overfrenetic, overloud crap as Transformers.

The movie is set entirely in a single house and features only 2 actors, both nonentities, aside from fleeting appearances by a couple of equally unknown supporting actors. It's all filmed with a consumer video camera, and much of the film is devoted to what that camera, mounted on a tripod in the young couple's bedroom, captures on its ultra-low-light setting as they sleep each night away for 2 weeks in late 2006.

As we learn in the opening sequence, it's a pretty expensive camera, and Katie Featherston (playing a character of the same name) is fretting over the cost, but her boyfriend, Micah Sloat (ditto), assures her that he makes that much money in a single morning. It develops that she's an English-lit student and he's a day trader.

Of more interest is why they acquired this geeky gizmo. Katie's been haunted by strange apparitions at least since she was 8 years old, and at the beginning Micah is humoring her by indulging his penchant for guy toys with a view toward capturing some of her more recent paranormal visitations on audio and video. He's pretty skeptical, but soon enuf weird poltergeistic effects start showing up on tape, just tiny little things, but inexplicable, and gradually he dials down the scoffing and (honest, well earned) chuckles and starts thinking this is "cool" (and, we are left to infer, possibly profitable). Katie, meanwhile, gets increasingly jittery and frightened. Neither is sleeping well, and they start snapping at each other, followed by regrets and reassurances.

The dialog and performances are absolutely, totally, 100% realistic. Katie and Micah behave and talk exactly as you would expect of any happy young couple. Nothing is forced or artificial. The film completely avoids all horror-movie clichés. No cats jump at you out of the dark. Every time they flip a switch, the lights reliably come on. There are none of those cheap tricks where you see a character all alone in a wide-angle shot, then cut to a close-up as a hand appears out of nowhere from behind. In fact, almost all the shots are long, fixed- camera, wide-angle perspectives, and you can see exactly what's going on at all times (including the time stamp in the lower right corner).

All of which make this the kind of movie that I'm always hoping for — an original story, well told, effective, using believable characters and, at least in this case, not needing a huge budget to get the job done.

Since I saw it the same day as Pandorum (3), with its seizure-inducing stroboscopic credits, I must also say a good word about the closing credits for Paranormal Activity: 3 minutes of total black screen. True to the producers' conceit, they maintain the illusion of documentarihood to the very end.

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Did You Know?

Trivia

Dreamworks wanted to remake the movie with a bigger budget and better known actors rather than release the film as it was and use the original as a DVD extra.


Quotes

Katie: Is that what I think it is?
Micah: Depends on what you think it is.
Katie: I think it's a big-ass camera! Whatever happened to one of those little hand held cameras?


Goofs

Katie's hair changes color from deep brunette to light brown & back again as the film progresses.


Crazy Credits

Epilogue text reads: "Micah's body was discovered by police on October 11, 2006. Katie's whereabouts remain unknown."


Alternate Versions

The version that was released in theaters is the cut supervised by Steven Spielberg. The Director's Cut, comprised of the unedited film with three possible endings, has several differences:

  • 1. There is a scene in the Theatrical Cut not present in the Director's Cut that takes place early on, where Katie and Micah wake up and find her keys thrown from the kitchen counter to the floor.
  • 2. The low frequency tone that occurs when the demon is present is not quite as loud in the Director's cut. There is only one instance of the demon whispering in the Theatrical Cut; there are at least three in the Director's Cut, all of which are heard in the bedroom at night.
  • 3. A lot of the demon noises - the loud growl followed by the bang, the footsteps, even the shadows that appear on the bedroom doors - were completely re-dubbed and retouched. All of these scenes are much, much louder/noticeable in theaters for jump scares. There seem to be at least two added "shadow" effects - another on the bedroom door, and a silhouette in the hallway - in the Director's Cut, whereas the Theatrical Cut only has one shadow used.
  • 4. The night when the demon plays the door games with Katie and Micah (opening and slamming it shut, knocking furiously) has been re-dubbed, as well. The knocking is much faster and louder in the Theatrical Cut.
  • 5. There's some added dialogue between Katie and Micah where they discuss how the stress is negatively affecting their lives. She says she's failing her university course and won't pass unless she "does something drastic" on her midterm. He says he lost a large sum of money playing the stock market earlier, and that he'll be taking a break for awhile.
  • 6. The demon's daytime attack is completely absent. The only time we get a good look at the picture that is smashed and clawed is when the two run up and down the hallway during the night to get away from the demon.
  • 7. There's an extra video attached to the "Goodbye Dianne" explanation at the computer. There is at least two minutes of added footage of the woman's ordeal, which has been heavily used in the TV commercials. Micah shows Katie footage of Dianne's demonic possession and subsequent exorcism as she is tied to a bed. Her appearance transforms from healthy to disheveled and dark, with large cuts on her face and body. Eventually, the footage shows that the exorcism was unsuccessful, and the possessed Dianne becomes so destructive that she chews her own arm off to the elbow.
  • 8. The double-layered voice Katie projects in bed when she says, "Everything will be fine from now on" (and later screaming downstairs) uses a different effect to achieve this. Unlike the Theatrical Cut, the two voices are very distinct.
  • 9. The ending is completely changed. Katie awakes shortly after midnight on the final night, gets out of bed and stares at Micah for roughly three hours. Unlike the Theatrical Cut, she does not move to his side of the bed to continue watching him, and the sheets do not fly off of his body. Instead, she goes straight downstairs. After Micah is awakened by the scream, he runs downstairs and we hear the ensuing scuffle. Like before, Katie slowly climbs the stairs, except the footstep effect is slightly altered and when she enters the room, she is holding a knife and covered in blood. Micah's body is not thrown at the camera; he remains downstairs. Katie sits down on the floor against the bed and proceeds to rock back and forth, knife in hand, for several days. We hear her ignore phone calls and the door bell. Eventually, one of her friends comes in to check on her and finds Micah's body, which momentarily interrupts Katie's rocking. The friend lets out a scream and runs out of the house. Twenty minutes later, we hear the police knock and enter, warning anyone in the house to "make themselves known" because they have their weapons drawn. As they search the first floor, it appears as if the demon has left Katie's body: we see the light to the attic turn on, then off, as if the demon went back into hiding. The police come upstairs, find Katie and warn her to drop the weapon. She's dazed, running toward them yelling, "Where's Micah!? Where's Micah?!". The door to the attic slams shut, startling the police so much that one accidentally shoots Katie dead. The final sixty seconds of the film shows the confused policemen, asking "Where did that [noise] come from?" and ultimately declaring the house "clear". The film fades to black, and a text appears that dedicates the film to Katie and Micah.


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Plot Summary


Synopsis (WARNING: Spoilers)


Genres

Horror | Mystery | Thriller

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