Wednesday, October 28, 2009

“I promised I wouldn't go *buy* a Ouija board. I borrowed one”

So, the big story this month was a low budget indie film made on a shoestring budget scaring the crap out of audiences and spreading a word-of-mouth viral campaign as to its genuine creepiness. Well, the movie was finished in 2007 but only released now, and delivers exactly what it says it would: Paranormal Activity.

Its 2006 and a young couple move into a modest modern apartment and begin experiencing…things. The boyfriend buys an expensive and fancy camera in the hopes of catching on film some of this paranormal activity (dun dun DUN!). The movie proceeds down a very creepy road as for the next 86 minutes of increasing dread, the couple get much more than they bargained for.

Micah: Micah Sloat plays our day trading “dude guy dude” type of guy. He’s a bit of a self absorbed douche who is perpetually antagonizing the…thing in the house to try and get good footage. Naturally, the entity obliges, but as a result, Micah fails at that most important element of relationships: two-way communication. He just doesn’t ever frickin’ listen to his girlfriend’s increasingly desperate pleas to knock it off with the camera and leave the…thing alone. On the other hand, if he wasn’t this stupid, we’d have no movie.

Katie: Katie Featherston plays the increasingly worried English Major girlfriend of Micah. Much more sympathetic than the dense Micah, it turns out that Katie’s been haunted by this thing for most of her life. She gets increasingly desperate to keep the…thing quiet as the activity grows increasingly hostile to them. She’s also a flawed character, being rather codependent on Micah’s approval of her decisions, which only helps to propel the tragedy builds up.

The Psychic: Mark Fredrichs is barely in the film as a psychic and ghost expert called in by Katie to help figure out what’s going on. He tells them that whatever’s in the house is not a ghost, gives them the number of a demonologist and proceeds to get out of dodge. It’s a major turning point in the film, though sadly the demonologist becomes a Godot-like character.

The Entity: The badass of the film exists as a creature made up entirely of sound effects, camera tricks and the occasional set of footprints. Clearly identified as a demon early on, the entity is much smarter than the two mortals and a real asshole who at times torments them just because it can.

The Camera: Yes, the camera is more or less a third main character. Its our eyes and ears into this disturbing suburban occurrence, and one that draws the audience in as a mute and helpless fly on the wall.

First time director Oren Peli really gets his mileage out of a minimal budget. The movie is tightly paced for the most part and the limitations of practical effects really forces the said paranormal activity (dun, dun, DUN!) to be rooted in stuff that is physically plausible. And its freaky as hell at maximizing a mounting sense of dread when the lights get turned off every night and the camera gets locked off onto a tripod. Also, the whole “handheld” feature is actually done well, since shots and frames are generally well done and a lot of the legitimate scares are done when the camera is locked off on a tripod. So, uh, bravo for not falling into the “its shaky so it must be SPOOOOOOOOOKY!!!” mentality.

Written by Oren Peli, the story is fairly straightforward, but effective since there is very little fat that weighs down the narrative. Dialog is serviceable and the people all speak like normal people (I wonder how much of it was improvised), but that’s also a negative feature. Most real conversations are generally boring and forgetful as they frequently are here.

The lack of a score really adds to the creepiness of the film. Also, mad props to the sound effects guys for making footsteps that bring dread with every heavy tread.

Paranormal Activity is a svelte and incredibly effective indie horror film. The grassroots word-of-mouth campaign that’s sprung up around it is quite impressive as well, but more so is the fact that the movie actually does deliver a chilling tale that is dollar for dollar infinitely more effective at using its budget to create legitimate scares more than most of the big budget, jump-cutting, glossy finished studio fare that you’re likely to see. And it is legitimately very scary. Its also still in theaters as of this posting, so its definitely recommended viewing, especially since going to see this instead of Saw VI would be a very RMWC approved way of supporting the little guy filmmakers as opposed to the franchise machines that crank out nothing but generic torture porn with increasingly ridiculous continuity snarls to ham fistedly tie together previous movies into a false continuity.

That’s right. It’s a RMWC Call To Arms to take back Halloween from Saw and give it back to the movies that legitimately celebrate the season! Sure, Saw VI opened up at number two to Paranormal which was in its third week (second of wide release) so let's keep up that momentum.

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