Weirdly enough, my relationship with the entire “Paranormal Activity” series has been rather sparse… or I should say, inexistent. Somehow, due to some strange coincidences throughout the years, all of the now five instalments have come and gone well below my radar. Now, I’m not going to get bogged down in explaining my circumstances as a (at the time) young aspiring scientist with zero time on his hands, but the time has finally come for me to make amends and see what the hoopla was all about.
If, like me, you managed to go about your life not having seen “Paranormal Activity” at all, or any of its sequels, the story of the first one can be summarized briefly as a found-footage account of Katie and Micah, a couple experiencing – well – paranormal activities in their house. As weird stuff is going on in their lives and Katie seems to be the one directly antagonized by whatever is haunting them, Micah decides to take matters into his own hands, install cameras around the house, and figure out what the hell is going on… which in the end becomes the film.
And that’s pretty much it. I don’t quite know, but to my mind, the film never lived up to the massive hype built around its entire franchise. It was nice, tight and serviceable, but nowhere near the visionary and ground-breaking status, that some people would like it to have. And I watched it in the most encouraging conditions ever: alone in the dark with headphones on. I would be lying if I said the film wasn’t effective in its scare tactics, because I got some good enjoyment out of it all. There are a handful of successful jump-scares scattered throughout the film and maybe two genuinely creepy, disturbing sequences that send shivers down your spine. However, if it was up to me I’d change a thing or two in hopes to make it a bit more effective.
It is my understanding that the main complaint issued towards “Paranormal Activity” is the very rhythmic way, in which the scares are delivered. Almost everything of substance happens at night and almost invariably the paranormal occurrences are accompanied by this low, ominous, droning sound. I realize it might be disappointing for some, as this way most of the scary bits are announced and the element of surprise is pretty much inexistent. Nevertheless, my experience with this film could be more aptly described as the Pavlov’s dog experiment. Even though all the signs would indicate that something was about to happen, after a little while that droning sound alone would evoke a creepy sense of discomfort, even if the actual payoff in terms of scares was rather mild. And that’s all fine, because a good horror is not about the scare-a-minute filling the running time with jumpy crap, but more about the atmosphere, which is by far the strongest part of “Paranormal Activity”.
Think about it, the film was done on the cheap with zero special effects, so the only bankable thing the film-makers could do to make the horror immersive and believable was the overall tone and atmosphere. In fact, the entire premise of alternating the relatively safe daytime sequences and the nights where things happened worked more in favour of the film, rather than against it. Sure, once the fast-forwarding stops and the droning comes on, you know something is coming, but it didn’t really turn me off. On the contrary, I would go full-Pavlov and start drooling on the floor (well, figuratively) with my senses heightened, looking in the corners of the screen for something untoward to appear.
Well, take it or leave it, but I would be inclined to make a few adjustments in the way the scares are delivered in “Paranormal Activity”. As I said, I don’t mind the fact the scary stuff happens at night and I find the sheer act of anticipation strangely effective. However, the film does suffer from very oddly linear pacing, as for the majority of the rather short running time not much really happens and the build-up seems really sluggish only to go through the roof in the final 10 minutes. I would really like to have been played with a bit here instead. In place of the steady and subdued build-up of suspense I’d rather chop it up a bit and throw some false culmination points here and there. You know, have a dead-end or two, where the suspense builds to nothing and then go ‘bam’ when you least expect it without any giveaway signs.
Apart from those minor points, it was a fun time finally watching “Paranormal Activity” and I’ll definitely check out the remaining instalments. There isn’t much to talk about in terms of the performances and the technical artistry, because there isn’t much to it. Though, I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t point out the major logical pothole this film suffers from, which is ‘why these people were filming in the first place’… I understand that something like “The Blair Witch Project” is about film students, whose passion is filming, so they would naturally roll the cameras once the shit hit the fan. In here, it seems out of character for these guys to pick up a camera and walk around with it whilst checking behind the curtains for demons. Logically, they should have stopped recording once the problem got quite serious and call someone capable of dealing with the threat. That way, the found-footage would end up rather boring and incomplete, so the remainder of the story would have to be done through re-enactments in order to maintain the façade of realism. But hey, I can put it all on the curb of suspension of disbelief and enjoy the show, which was fine enough in the end.