For my penultimate look at ghost stories through October, I’ve decided to take a look at the found-footage horror, Paranormal Activity. Whereas it’s technically not a ghost story with the supernatural entity being of a demonic nature, it has all the trademarks of one and is responsible for changing the playing field when it comes to other cinematic fare of the same genre. The plot focuses on Micah and Katie, an engaged-to-be-engaged couple whose house appears to be haunted. Determined to protect his home and woman, Micah buys a video camera in an attempt to document and get to the bottom of the bumps, the groans and whisperings that haunt them through the night.
My memory of seeing Paranormal Activity at the cinema is vivid. Every seat was full, the tension was palpable and broken only through the screams and following laughter of the terrified audience, myself included. An experience akin to an immersive roller-coaster ride at Universal Studios, it’s one of the most fun times I can remember having at the cinema in the last ten years. Watching it for the first time in a long time over the weekend, I was surprised to see it has stood the test of time too. Despite watching it with the sound turned down and all of the lights on, I still found it to be unsettling on a very deep, almost primal level.
This is where the film works best, cleverly playing on your fears of the dark and what could be hidden within it. Through the simple shot composition of two people in bed with the bedroom door wide open, a great deal of tension is created as your eyes are immediately drawn to the darkness beyond the open door. The film-makers have a great deal of fun playing with this and as your eyes are busy trying to decipher the shadows, that’s when they pull off their biggest scares.
Okay, the film is no masterpiece and the sequels it’s spawned have grown in absurdity, but its influence on cinema, for better or for worse, is undeniable. Even though the found-footage thing was done a whole eight years before with The Blair Witch Project, the concept never really took off until Paranormal Activity. What this film does really cleverly though is it makes the camera an important part of the story, with the attempts to capture footage of the paranormal serving as tension between the two lead characters and a possible instigator for the increase in activity.
Since its release, we’ve had multiple genres use the format with varying degrees of success. Another way in which it changed the horror genre in particularly is by creating a sudden surge of films that focus on demons and cults, from The Last Exorcism to the more recent Annabelle. For a whole generation of people who saw Paranormal Activity on the big-screen, it is perhaps somewhat a modern-day classic. Terrifying on a visceral level, it still freaks me out to this day despite it’s utter ridiculousness.
Trivia Tidbit: Steven Speilberg had to stop watching the film halfway through on a home screener as he was genuinely spooked by the experience. He completed it in daylight hours the next day and loved it.
Next Week: Ghostbusters (1984)
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com