Friday, November 20, 2009

Movie Review: Paranormal Activity

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“Paranormal Activity” ought to provide some lessons for Hollywood. You don’t need millions of dollars to craft an engaging film, nor do you need graphic depictions of violence and buckets of blood to horrify audiences. “Paranormal Activity” is minimalist filmmaking at its best; proving our imaginations conger more horror than celluloid. The movie demonstrates no amount of money replaces the fundamentals of cinematic storytelling: an original concept, a good script, better acting, and ruthless editing.

How this 11 thousand dollar movie became a 100 million dollar grossing behemoth is, itself, worthy of a movie that I hope to review some day. As it stands, this little movie is worth your money – depending on your tolerance for low budget filmmaking.

The director and screenwriter, Oren Peli, is smart enough to make the low budget a key plot point. A couple uses a single video camera to document a home’s strange bumps and noises. And that’s it. That’s the movie, a couple filming each other reacting to the strange things going on.

Many are comparing this film to the “Blaire Witch Project”, a jerky little film with a few decent scares. For me though, this film is better compared to the attacking sharks, and super low budget of “Open Water”. “Open Water” and “Paranormal Activity” are about more than just terror of an uncontrolled presence (say sharks or ghosts) but also how a loving couple deals with the pressure. These films depict how the couples support each other, blame each other, contribute and detract from a solution to their predicaments. This focus on the dynamic relationship between two lovers in an impossible situation elevates these films from mere shock-fests to, dare I say it, art.

“Paranormal Activity” is not a perfect film. There are a couple of scenes that drag and there are a couple of “frights” that are silly more than scary. There is a lot of hand held camera action, which can be a little jerky. If you are susceptible to car sickness, you may find yourself looking at your hands occasionally during the first thirty minutes. Once the tension begins to ratchet up though, I stopped noticing the camera work and started freaking out.

I love that there is little blood or graphic violence. The camera does not give us a surgical view of the bloodletting like some of the higher budget torture porn popular these days. This may have been a choice necessitated by the lack of a budget. But having your mind fill in the blanks is much more terrifying than what any cheap special effect could have produced. The lack of budget, the lack of blood, forces the filmmaker to use their imaginations to encourage us, in turn, to use our imaginations. Combine that with a wham-bang ending, and you’ve got yourself an effective little horror movie.

With decent acting and some choice bits of comedy to contrast and heighten the horror, I like this movie. My old creaky house is all the more freaky thanks to this film. Yeah, next time I check on that loud bang in the basement holding a bat and expired bear spray, I’ll be thinking, “Thanks Oren Peli. Thanks a lot”. Paranormal Activity plays this weekend a the Gross Alaska Glacier Cinemas. This is Clint Farr, alone, and freaked out, at the movies.

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