They don’t get it, until they do
Victims in horror-movie hauntings suffer like homeowners who buy vermin-infested real estate. Despite obvious, terrifying physical evidence, they refuse to consult an expert - until it’s too late.
In “Paranormal Activity,’’ an invisible force bedevils San Diegans Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat), and they battle back, chronicling the entity’s every offense with HD video equipment. “This is my house, nothing’s gonna mess with my girlfriend!’’ Micah vows, as Katie retreats to their no-longer-private bedroom.
Claustrophobic to a fault, the movie would have audiences believe - as claimed in the opening title card - that the footage that follows is real. Only the very young and fans of TV programming like “The Hills’’ will find this credible.
A “Blair Witch Project’’-like sensation at the 2008 Slamdance Film Festival, the movie has since been streamlined by 10 minutes by Paramount Pictures, which has looked to build buzz with a series of midnight screenings. Unlike “Blair Witch,’’ which captured the panic of being lost in dark woods, “Paranormal Activity’’ finds mild unease and shocks in an underfurnished home. Even at 85 minutes, the movie contains maybe 50 minutes that scare.
For too long, Micah’s multimedia project reflects only Katie’s simmering resentment of the camera; Featherston’s expression switches from teasing to ticked off. Lights flicker, curtains ruffle, groans come from upstairs and down. Meanwhile, the frisky couple bicker over whether to turn off the camera and flee (she’s for it) or to summon the recommended demonologist (he’s dead set against). It’s like watching a YouTube clip of your irritating neighbors, knee deep in muck, as they argue the effectiveness of plumbers.
Despite some unsettling nighttime scenes, seen through Micah’s ever-watchful viewfinder, “Paranormal Activity’’ lets the mood of domestic dread slip away, until its whammo final scene. In those lost minutes, too many doubts can creep in as to what’s behind all the scratches and bangs, and whether director Oren Peli isn’t secretly pro-infestation.