After seeing some online trailers for “Paranormal Activity” at the beginning of the year (or maybe even earlier), I very much lost sight of this movie. It never came to theatres in Germany (at least not where I live) and I just stumbled over it today.
I have seen quite a few horror movies in my time and I’m not easy to shock, but at the end of this one, my heart was beating so strong I could feel my heartbeat in my throat.
The whole movie is extremely well made in the ‘I’m not made at all, I’m real’ way. You know, like “Blair Witch Project” a couple of years ago, with a handheld camera and a lot of seemingly unfiltered material. Still, the fact alone that the movie has an alternate end shows it’s not ‘real’. (It isn’t, check the official site for more information.)
* * * Warning: Spoiler for the end of the movie, read at your own risk! * * *
What makes the movie so scary is the fact that it doesn’t look scary at all, for most of the time. From the about 90 minutes of footage, only the last minute features true ‘horror’, visible horror. The remainder is scaring because the whole story moves from the absolutely normal (you couple living in their house somewhere in San Diego) into the realm of the paranormal (women being stalked by some kind of demon). This way, basically everyone can rely to the story told.
We see, through the eye of a camera, how the life of Katie and Micah slowly leaves normality far behind and everything ends in absolute tragedy. In the beginning, it looks like some kind of haunting or maybe a poltergeist (one of the few German words in the English language, by the way). Katie has been followed by a ‘shadow’ since childhood. She was around eight when she and her younger sister sometimes saw a shadowy figure at the foot end of Katie’s bed. Then it disappeared until she was around thirteen and then it was gone until recently when she started having nightmares again and heard whispers close to her ear. Micah, her boyfriend, reacts to this by buying a camera and mounting it on a tripod in their bedroom so they get a good look at what happens during the night. From then onwards the story slowly moves further and further from reality and closer and closer to the tragic end.
Katie insists that, as Micah get the camera, she gets to call a specialist on ghosts to get some information and, when possible, help. The specialist, though, claims he can’t help – it’s not a ghost that is stalking Katie, it’s a demon. He gives them the number of a colleague of his who is specialized in demonology. But Micah is set against it. He thinks there’s a perfectly normal explanation for the whole thing and wants to investigate it all by himself. If it gets worse, though, they might call that specialist.
It gets worse, of course. At the beginning, there’s the odd sound or movement of the door. Extremely well done, by the way, the footage looks genuine, even in latter states when Katie gets pulled out of bed and along most of the corridor by some invisible force.
After about 40 Minutes, I thought ‘why the hell aren’t they calling a specialist’ (like that guy the first specialist told them about). They don’t even try until it’s basically too late.
And if I had been Micah, I would have pulled Katie out of the house screaming and kicking, if necessary, after the invisible demon had pulled her through most of the corridor and bitten her.
So, yes, things get out of hand after a while and in the end, the demon possesses Katie and kills Micah. The very last minute goes like this: there’s the sound of heavy steps on the stair (after Katie walked out of the room like a sleepwalker like once before, then screams and Micah follows her without the camera), a little calm, then Micah is thrown through the bedroom at the camera – by Katie (!). She approaches the obviously dead guy with heavy steps, gets down on all fours, sniffing like a predator. Then she turns towards the fallen camera, smiles and attacks it with a growl – end of movie, a short remark about the finding of the dead Micah and Katie’s complete disappearing.
* * * End of spoiler area! * * *
The horror movie works that good because of its setting. We only see the couple inside their own house in a calm suburb of San Diego. Home is the place where we all want – need – to feel safe. When something – a burglar, a poltergeist, this demon – invades this safe place, where can we run? Where can, to stay with the story, Katie run? She has been followed by the demon for most of her life.
And we see the whole story through the eye of a camera. There’s no obvious change in the point of view. Whether Micah or Katie hold the camera, we only see what they point it at – or what it sees from a tripod, like it does in the bedroom during various nights (including Micah’s last) and in the living room where they leave a Ouija board behind the demon amuses himself with (pushing the little board back and forth and setting the whole thing on fire later on). Well, I guess stalking a woman for years includes many boring hours…
“Paranormal Activity” is a very good horror movie, but it’s not for people with a weak heart or weak nerves. Apart from that, I’m glad to see I can still be scared by something on screen…