Plot: What’s it about?
It would seem that every decade has some sort of defining moment, or in this case a defining film, for a particular genre. With the teen comedies the 70’s had “American Graffiti”, the 80’s had “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, the 90’s Brought “Dazed and Confused” and the first part of the new century had “Superbad”. Such is the case with the horror genre. Ten years ago, we were introduced to “The Blair Witch Project” a film so utterly real that it was unlike anything we’d never seen before. Zero special effects, shaky camerawork and a plot line so simple even a child could understand it. But in keeping with the “less is more” theory, it scared the hell out of audiences (myself included). It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since I first saw the film and a decade later we’ve got something that’s eerily similar in terms of look, feel and plot. For those that don’t know, “Paranormal Activity” was made for a mere $15,000 dollars and ended up becoming one of the year’s hottest films. It raked in over $100 million (yes, with an “M”) at the domestic box office alone. Now if that isn’t a return on investment, then I don’t know what is. So what is it that’s so appealing about the film? Are you afraid of things that go bump in the night? You should be.
We meet Katie (Katie Featherston), a college graduate student who’s studying to become a teacher. She lives with her boyfriend, Micah (Micah Sloat), a “daytrader” who works at home. Katie has always been haunted by a demon. Her house burned down when she was 8 and it’s something she’s had to live with ever since then. Lately though she’s been hearing noises in the house and Micah decides to document the experience. He buys a video camera to film them while asleep to see if this is merely a figment of Katie’s imagination or if there really is some other force at work. As it turns out, there really is something going on. Micah and Katie watch the film to see everything from doors moving to lamps shaking to hearing footsteps running up and down their hall. Clearly Katie was telling the truth and when they enlist the help of a psychic (Mark Fredrichs), he knows something’s not right and high tails it out of the house. With the disturbances becoming more and more severe, will Katie and Micah manage to make peace with their spirit or will it get the best of them?
Admittedly, I was a bit shaken by “Paranormal Activity”, then again I watched it alone just before bedtime. That’s probably something you shouldn’t do and even though I knew it was a work of fiction, I put an extra night light in the socket for…whatever reason. I’m not really a big fan or believer of other worldly possessions, but I don’t chastise those who do believe. I think there are things that happen that have no explanation and I won’t rule out the fact that people have encounters like this. I watch the show “Ghost Hunters” on occasion, which bears a resemblance in tone to this film, and always chuckle when they hear a board creak. I found “The Blair Witch Project” to be a lot more disturbing than this film, but I can see the appeal in “Paranormal Activity” for sure. The cast is small, the shooting location is relegated to a house (though early on you do see a driveway), so if the sense of claustrophobia doesn’t get you, then perhaps the later scenes will?
Video: How does it look?
Most films that are shot on a budget of $15,000 aren’t going to look pristine and exquisite and this is no exception. A majority of the film is seen through Micah’s eyes (who’s looking through a camera as he documents the experience) so we see a DV version of what’s really going on. Still, the 1.78:1 AVC HD transfer is certainly no bad by any stretch. The colors are all fairly muted as the action takes place in the interior of the house or as we see the footage at night (in a very bluish/blackish sort of light). There’s really no artifacting to speak of, but the image isn’t perfect either. It’s a good effort and given the nature and budget of the film, I was fairly impressed.
Audio: How does it sound?
The DTS HD Master Audio track is certainly not on par with some other new films out there, but then again it’s not supposed to be. Most, if not all, of the sound is very natural. Dialogue is at the heart of the film and it does sound very strong and well-centered. The only time any sort of surround sound comes into play is at night when we watch them sleep. You might want to turn your speakers up, way up, to get the full LFE effect of some of the “experiences”. Aside from that, it’s a very straight-forward track that really won’t wow anyone. And again, it’s really not supposed to.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Paramount is either holding out for a special edition or there’s not a lot of material here because all we get in this “Two Disc Special Edition” is a digital bonus copy of the film and an alternate ending. I will say that the alternate ending is different, but only in the last ten seconds. We might want to wait for a more robust edition to warrant a purchase here.