This ultra-low budget US horror might live up to the hype but don’t get set for any sleepless nights just yet
"Don’t see it alone." So warns the ominous tagline footnoting the advertising campaign that has saturated the UK over the past few weeks. Even if you know nothing about Paranormal Activity, chances are you will have heard the name, seen the posters and even fed the hype. But does this modest US production deliver where so many hotly billed horrors fall short? Maybe, but don’t get set for any sleepless nights just yet.
Filmed over seven days and nights in writer-director Oren Peli’s suburban San Diego home in 2006, Paranormal Activity follows a young couple, Katie and Micah, as they attempt to document the distressing disturbances that have begun to disrupt their lives. Against his partner’s wishes, Micah purchases some high-spec recording equipment with the hope of capturing the supposed specter.
Each night he sets the tape, settles down, and leaves the audience to gaze helplessly on as the ill-intent guest goes about unsettling the couple's sanctum. As the intrusions worsen the pair's relationship begins to take the strain; their escalating stress echoing the audiences increasing unease.
Regularly interspersing the unexplained early hour goings on with the sanctuary of daylight, however, the film fails to really drive home its own deftly built tension, allowing the audience to adjust to a rather routine narrative.
Rhythmically restoring a sense of equilibrium may well deliver some much needed respite, but somehow the film's climax feels premature, arriving just when things start getting going at a more agitating pace. Still, with the film leaving the whisper of a sequel in its wake, perhaps Peli is right to leave his audience squirming for more.
Parallels will inevitably be drawn between Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project, which is unavoidable given the narrative similarities and ultra-low budget style shared by both and so sharply initiated by the latter. That nightmare inducing pop culture phenomenon has been gestating for 10 years and it is remarkable that it has taken so long for a film to be rightly held under the same quivering light (2008's Cloverfield and Quarantine are two noteworthy contenders, although neither is as comparatively effective on such a primal level of human fear).
Flash forward from the frenzy of 1999 and cinemagoers have become hardened, more desensitised even, to the affects of shaky-cam aesthetics. In aiming to upset the sanctity of sleep, perhaps Paranormal Activity has simply set its sights too high. While terrifying in places, it is ultimately still someway behind matching the impact of The Blair Witch Project (seriously, who goes into the woods at night anymore?).
Still, the bandwagon having since rolled on to newer pastures, Paranormal Activity deserves more than to be pigeonholed. Nor should it be written off as just another opportunistic cash-in. In fact, it is commendable for setting itself apart from recent genre trends; where so many films look to conform to the tasteless torture porn trash that has become something of a mainstay of modern horror filmmaking.
This is still postmodern horror, but if nothing else Paranormal Activity proves that you don’t need buckets of gore and a tacked on twist to send chills racing down audience spines.
Hotly-hyped in the US, but how often is the buzz worse than the bite?
Who you gonna call? Your mum, most probably.
For now, at least, sleep remains a safe haven.