A refreshing approach to horror

Andrew Paulsen

After spending two years in the film festival circuit and grass roots promotion, Paranormal Activity has finally received a nationwide release and opened in Kent this past weekend.

For those unfamiliar with the film’s plot, it follows the account of a couple’s attempt at videotaping and documenting encounters with supernatural phenomena in their San Diego house. If anything, the movie is reminiscent of an episode of Discovery Channel’s horror series “A Haunting.”

The film begins with girlfriend Katie Featherston coming home to boyfriend Micah Sloat and asking about the video camera and equipment he purchased to capture the otherworldly happenings on tape.

“How much did it cost?” Featherston said.

I found this line of dialogue very fitting considering the film was made for less than $15,000, and I wouldn’t be surprised if filmmaker Oren Peli inserted that line as a quip about his budget.

Similar to the style of first-person account horror films from the past decade (Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Quarantine), the marketing of the film hinges on the premise that the movie was made from “found” footage. Kudos to Peli for making it feel genuine and realistic. Micah and Katie’s acting was superb and the dialogue between the two flowed naturally (in part, as I later found out, because a large portion of it was ad-libbed).

I saw the film Saturday night in a packed showing at the Kent Plaza Theatre, and I was somewhat impressed. While I don’t consider myself a horror veteran by any standard, I didn’t get freaked out like any of my friends that went with me (they were all burying their faces in their hands or in their neighbors’ shoulders), but I still found the film suspenseful. There was great tension in the first-person perspective, and regardless of my lack of screaming or lack of shielding my eyes at intense moments, the creepiness of the movie has stuck with me.

One reason why I feel the movie’s perspective works so well is because it limits the audience from seeing everything that is going on in the house. Similar to another horror film, “The Shining,” the most haunting moments in the movie don’t thrive on a ghost jumping in front of the camera or some other hokey cheap-shot – it instead relies on the eerie atmosphere and sounds that occur off-screen (bumps in the night).

Until the final scene of the film (a bit of a scary movie cliché), “Paranormal Activity” tends to avoid cheap scares. You won’t find a soundtrack in this movie with violin shrills cueing the shocking parts of the movie, nor will you see excessive gore or a monster.

While the film may have come from an independent filmmaker, alterations from the film festival circuit version to the final product, show that it has been a bit Hollywood-ized (mainly the ending), but nonetheless, it is a refreshing approach to horror. Most everyone I talked to after the end credits wanted to leave the theater as soon as possible, not because they thought the movie was bad – it was because they were horrified.

Contact features reporter Andrew Paulsen at [email protected].