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Review: ''Paranormal Activity''

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Things I learned while watching writer-director Oren Peli's ingenious, spooky, much-hyped and ultimately disappointing Paranormal Activity:

- Before you move in with your significant other, make sure you know a bit about their lives before you met them. More specifically, ask them if they happened to be haunted by a "shadowy figure" that would materialize at the foot of their bed when they were kids, burned down their childhood home and then followed their family around, continuing to terrorize them as they moved from city to city. It's helpful to know this sort of stuff about people you intend to live with and eventually marry.

- Even in the post-Hostel/Saw era, it is still possible to terrify audiences almost entirely by suggestion. I've never been more freaked out by the sight of a door swaying back and forth a couple of inches.

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- The Israeli-born Peli, a former video game designer with no formal film training, made Paranormal Activity for less than $15,000, and is now working on his second film (Area 51) with a budget of $5 million. He is living proof that sometimes, if you have a good idea and execute it well enough, your dreams of becoming a director really can come true. It helps, though, if Steven Spielberg happens to watch a DVD screener of your film and gives it his stamp of approval.

- The first-person "found footage" filmmaking style that worked such evil wonders in the no-budget The Blair Witch Project, and translated so effectively to huge-budget proportions in Cloverfield, still has plenty of life left in it. The key to making it work is finding unknown actors who can convincingly portray ordinary people constantly videotaping themselves, such as Paranormal Activity's Katie Featherstone and Micah Sloat, who play the relatable couple documenting the increasingly strange goings-on inside their home.

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- Humor remains an indispensable tool in getting a horror film audience to relax before the scary stuff starts to go down. It also helps humanize your characters. When a paranormal expert informs the couple hauntings feed off negative energy, the still-skeptical Micah tells Katie "We shouldn't let your mother come over any more."

- When you're fairly convinced there's a ghost or demon or other evil creature haunting your home, and the ghostbusting psychic you call in to investigate is so freaked out he hightails it out of there a few seconds after stepping through your door {"Whoa! I can't be here!"), it may be time to move. Or at least call in Max Von Sydow.

- Cinematic suspense is a tricky thing. It is highly elastic and can be stretched to delirious extremes, like in Inglourious Basterds or every other Brian De Palma picture. But stretch out the suspense too long, and tedium starts to creep in. Once the viewer grows bored, it's almost impossible to draw them back in, and the seams in your movie start to show.

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- When an expert in demonology tells you never to use a Ouija board to talk with a demon, because that's an invitation for them to cross over into your home, heed their advice. Better yet, never use a Ouija board at all, just to be safe. You remember how evil and dangerous they seemed when you were a kid? It's all true.

- I understand marketing is critical to getting your movie seen, and the campaign Paramount Pictures has created for Paranormal Activity is ingenious. But did they have to show almost all of the spookiest moments from the film (including the shot that made me jump the most) in the trailer?

Mikecorner -  As eerie as much of Paranormal Activity is, nothing in it comes close to the final shot of The Blair Witch Project, which remains one of the most hair-raising moments I've had in a movie theater in the last 10 years. And that was basically a shot of a guy staring at a wall.

- Paranormal Activity runs a brief 87 minutes, but it would have been infinitely more effective if it had been 5 or 10 minutes shorter. You know when characters in a movie start bickering and arguing for no discernible reason, even when they're in the middle of a situation so dire and scary they should only be thinking about survival? That's called padding.

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- You know what's scarier than the lights in your home turning on and off by themselves in the middle of the night, or sudden loud noises that wake you up with a startle? Finding footprints left by some kind of three-toed creature next to your bed in the morning.

- When you stoke an audience's expectation about what lurks in the shadows of a dark hallway or a cramped attic, and you spend the entire film relying on the viewer's imagination about who or what the presence may be, think very carefully about actually revealing it. If you do decide to show it, then you better make it good. The last shot in Paranormal Activity is so hackneyed and trite, it nearly ruins everything that came before. The stuff that happens right before it, however, scared the crap out of me.

- If you're going to see Paranormal Activity, you must absolutely see it in a crowded theater, preferably this weekend, while the hype is at its peak and audiences are primed to be scared. The movie's faults aside, this is the kind of show where half the fun is watching it in the company of a large group of people. I've rarely heard as many dread-filled exclamations of "Oh, man!" as I did during the packed screening I attended. Paranormal Activity is a one-shot viewing experience - like Blair Witch, there's nothing in the movie that will compel you to ever watch it again - but as far as communal experiences at the multiplex go, the film delivers.

  

Comments

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Juan

Not interested in this at all. This looks like its nothing but hype, and will be about as scary as toe jam, much like that god awful Blair Witch Project. I'm not getting suckered into that crap again.

An interesting tidbit, that last shot in the movie, was Spielbergs idea.

Me

Just seen this movie. It was totally boring until the end. I actually thought it was a true story. Now that I found out it wasn't, it was no more than a badly made low budget movie, and really boring. Don't pay for it because you will feel f _ _ _ ed in the end.

Eric

Believe the hype. Though, mostly for fans that appreciated Blair Witch Project and The Last Broadcast. It's not really going to be for someone that needs everything spoon fed to them, and such a person will probably have the "That's it?!" attitude when it is over. All I can say is that it has been a REALLY long time since I was freaked out in a movie theater, and I was up in bed off and on all night. Because of this, I highly recommend Paranormal Activity, in is a genuinely creepy film.

Davida

you guys are all crazy! thats movie was sooooo damn good! go see it now!

CBR

Soooo boring, from my point of view. If you don't care about technical stuff, then you will be scared, as many naive people. If you care about those critical points, as me, then you will feel disappointed.
Facts: 1) Really bad actors and actresses, not believable at all. 2) Special effects are fake fake fake, from beginning to the end (you will find more impressive in youtube). 3) I have not seen a movie in a pretty-much-new house, this was my first one and it was kind of suggesting, but they really messed up. I cannot be scare of something that takes place in a new house/complex, unless there is a good story behind. Not the case here, not the case. 5) Was the screen play written by a jell-o? There is no punch line.

If you saw the trailer, well that's pretty much the movie, no too much beyond that. Even your imagination can scares you a lot more.

Marc-Alexandre Duchesne

I had very high expectations (something I usually try to avoid because you end up disappointed 90% of the time) for this movie and I wasn't disappointed at all! It's awesome! I've seen over 1000 horror movies and Paranormal Activity is definitely one of the best I've seen (top 50)! It's not one of the best I've seen only because it's one of the scariest, it's also one of the most realistic and it's the movie I've always dreamed of! I've always wanted someone to make a realistic movie like The Blair Witch Project about a family or a couple filming in their house to catch ghosts and this movie has everything that I wanted! It's very suspenseful and it has some truly effective scenes! A lot of people say that it's boring and I really don't get it! It's WAY too suspenseful to be boring! I've been trying to understand why the people that thought that it was boring went to see it since it was released! Why does someone who get bored easily go see a movie about a couple filming in their house? While we're at it, why does someone expect to be scared in a theater full of people? The fact that there are idiotic teens that can't stop talking and laughing 90% of the time doesn't help. Personally, I can't imagine finding a movie scary with 30 persons around me. I thought the movie was scary (compared to most movies), but I watched it alone in the dark with an headset. The fact that I believe (or want to) in ghosts/demons helped as well. Actually, I can't imagine someone who doesn't believe in ghosts/demons finding a movie about them scary. What makes ghost/demons movies scary is the fact that maybe they exist. Anyway, the first few minutes of the movie is the only time I didn't feel uneasy! The atmosphere was simply creepy! Hell, even a few parts with nothing but the couple talking were creepy! I guess it was the expectation that something really bad was going to happen. Anyway, when the movie was about to end I felt bad because I really didn't want it to end and any movie that makes me feel this way deserves 5 stars. I Can't wait for the DVD.

PS: All of the people who call the people who like this movie sheeps are immature idiots. Just because you think a movie is bad doesn't mean that those who think it's good are sheeps or wrong or whatever stupid *beep* bigots love to come up with.

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