Ever noticed that creaking sound in the floors? Or a weird thumping in the wall? Or that the bedroom door is moving, ever so slightly? In Paranormal Activity, mundane household noises take on a terrifying quality, and create the relatable backbone of one of the year’s most unique films.
With the DIY feel of Blair Witch Project, Paranormal follows Katie and Micah, a young couple that just moved in together, and have begun to notice repeatedly odd occurrences around the house — strange noises, water taps mysteriously turned on and other minor offenses. The film is ostensibly footage from Micah’s video camera, which he uses to record their day-to-day, and sets up in their room at night, and to see what he can catch on tape. But as things get progressively more weird, it’s confession time and — uh-oh! Katie has a backstory she maybe should’ve told her BF before shacking up.
While the film is set entirely within the confines of Micah and Katie’s house and includes just two other actors for a handful of scenes, it picks up its own, taut rhythm, drawing us into Micah and Katie’s growing fear and containing us in what becomes a den of doom. Paranormal’s scenes jockey between nighttime bedroom shots, in which seemingly simple special effects portray an aggressive evil force, and the humdrum daytime hours, during which we see our heroes as average people who could be your neighbors. But as more things go bump in the night (and eventually, bump in the day), our besieged duo become increasingly agitated, growing weary from sleep-deprivation and fear.
Like any good horror film, everything looks familiar: Katie and Micah are just like us — kind of funny and comfortable with each other — and their lives, until the invisible Mr. Evil pays a visit, are pretty simple. First-time filmmaker Oren Peli has capitalized on that simplicity to construct a compelling movie that illustrates movie-making at its best. Through repetition, disciplined editing and unnervingly natural acting, Paranormal establishes its own cadence and intelligently builds on itself, teasing and pulling back again and again like an expert DJ with a packed room of beat-hungry party-goers. It’s totally terrifying — and also a refreshing gem amid a field of big-studio blockbusters that sometimes miss out on what filmmaking is really about