a theatre, film & pop culture review
It’s been ten years since the premiere of The Blair Witch Project: the tiny indie-horror-film-that-could terrified the beejusus out of us on a mere $100,000 budget simply by throwing three sadsacks into the woods with a few handheld cameras, offering them bloodied bundled sticks as creepy daily gifts, and most horrifying of all… sticking a guy in a corner.
Now we’ve got another indie horror flick made on an even smaller budget (an impressive $11,000).While Paranormal Activity capitalizes on its predecessors’ success with the home-movie genre (though the steadiness and clear shots of a tripod replace the nauseating herky-jerky camera movements of Blair Witch), it also throws in a great deal of The Exorcist for chilling measure. Instead of witches, director-screenwriter Oren Peli offers a demon that nightly terrorize a young San Dieogan couple in their two-story home. Blair Witch smartly taps into our psychological fear of deep, dark woods by not showing us anything except the pitch black night and close-ups of tear-stained faces. Not so here: we see exactly what’s happening to adorable girl-next-door Katie (Katie Featherston) and her obnoxious but endearing boyfriend, Micah (Micah Sloat) in their bedroom at night, and without throwing out any spoilers, it’s more than sufficient to say that seeing the demon at work is just as petrifying as not being able to see a darned thing. While the film within a film device (we see the nightly terrors through the lens of Katie and Micah’s camera, never just through Peli’s eye) does offer a modicum of protective distancing for the audience, there’s no denying the primordial fear it induces: the gut-tightening, hairs-standing on end, sleeping-with-the-light-on paranoia.
Audiences were divided on the scare tactics of Blair Witch, and they’ll either love or hate Paranormal Activity too. The new fright flick is coasting nicely on the groundwork established by its predecessor, both in cinematic form and clever marketing — including the false “based-on-a-true-story” tagline and a slow buzz-building release of midnight-only showings that will swiftly guarantee it a cult following. A lack of formal innovation, however, doesn’t detract from Paranormal‘s super-freaky effectiveness, as it asks the unnerving question “what happens when you sleep?” The terrifying answer plunges and roots itself into your psyche, ensuring countless sleepless nights and a raising of the bar for all low-budget frightfests to come.