I arrived at this movie all aboard the ghost hype train. A bit bored with the torture porn that passes for horror these days, good word of mouth had led to me believe that here was a movie that would scare the living bejesus out of me.
Knocked out on the cheap for $15000 by first time director Oren Peli, and shot entirely in his own home, he apparently spent a year tidying up, and redecorating. And I did wonder how much of that $15000 went on the new, snazzy HDTV in the living room. Not a bad little scam really.
The plot gets going straight away. The girlfriend arrives at her house where the boyfriend is making preparations to film the spooky goings on that have been recently plaguing them. Shot mostly from the point of view of the boyfriend with the camera on his shoulder, they sit around, chatting about pretty mundane stuff, waiting for the night to roll in, and the action to start.
And it’s during the night, for a while at least, that the film excels. Ever wake up in the middle of the night to find your sleepy brain interprets a harmless shadow in the corner of the room to be a slowly yawning gateway into some Cthulhu style underworld of soul eating beasties? In the stillness of the night scenes, before anything happens, there are moments of genuine tension, and at times I found my eyes flicking back and forth across the screen, wondering when the next shock, if any, might come from.
Sadly, once it gets back to daytime, it starts to get a trifle dull. The girlfriend moans for a bit about how they need to sort out the ghost, whilst the boyfriend rolls his eyes, and refuses, as he’s far too busy shoving a camera in her face, or analysing ghostly whisperings on his laptop. This gets pretty boring, pretty quickly, save for the entrance and rapid departure of the world’s most useless psychic. He’s like a plumber who takes a look at a broken pipe, and goes, “What? What’s this? A broken pipe? Good God, why did you call me? I’m a plumber, not a miracle worker!”
By the time the film changes tack, it’s too late. The shocks come stronger and faster, as is the way with any horror movie as it reaches it’s climax, but the daytime scenes have sapped the tension too much by this point, and I was willing the film to finish as quickly as possible. The ending (one of three different ones out there, apparently), when it arrives, feels derivative.
Still, the film made enough money to warrant a sequel, excitingly called Paranormal Activity 2. I think even if they’d called it Normal Activity, and just filmed a guy coming home from a hard day’s work, sitting on the sofa, watching football on TV whilst his wife nags him about finishing the decorating, then chances are it would be more thrilling.