Thursday, October 22, 2009

Paranormal Activity

I was sixteen when The Blair Witch Project came out. And it scared the shit out of me. I’ll never forget the epic conclusion. Heather and Mike running through that old house, screaming their heads off. Heather comes into the basement, finds Mike in standing in the corner, the screaming stops and her camera hits the ground. The dirt floor flashes in and out of focus. When the screen went black I literally got up and ran out of the theater.

Ten years later…

The screen is graced with Paranormal Activity, a film so unabashedly similar it almost seems like a joke. How could somebody practically remake a movie as unique and stand-alone as Blair Witch? But here we are, and there it is. And as the movie runs its course, the similarities only continue to stack up. Shaky cam, improvised dialogue, awkward angles, long drawn out suspense sequences. The list gets longer and longer.

But here’s the thing: I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Paranormal Activity was, in fact, a much better movie than Blair Witch!

I know, I know. It’s hard for me to believe too. I certainly didn’t want this to be the case, but here we are. Granted, it didn’t shake me to the bone quite like its predecessor, but I’m not sixteen anymore. Thank god.

The plot: Katie and Micah (pronounced Mee-kah) live together. Ever since she was a little girl Katie has been haunted by a ghost. Something she failed to tell Micah before moving in. When creepy things start happening around the house Micah gets the idea to buy a video camera and keep a record of their attempts to figure out what exactly is going on. When they contact a psychic he informs them that she’s actually being stalked by a demon, not a ghost. Which is not his field of expertise. Needless to say, shit goes sour from there.

What makes this a better movie than Blair Witch? It’s called Simplicity. Witch had some genuine moments of terror laced through it, but large portions of the film are spent building characters and subplots between the three hikers. Not to mention a slew of other people smattered all over the first twenty minutes, mostly providing humor, rather than building suspense.

Paranormal keeps it slim and trim with no other characters than Katie, Micah, and the psychic (who’s only in the movie for about five minutes). The camera never leaves the house, except for a few brief moments shot in the backyard. We are stuck in this house, with this demon, just like the film’s protagonists.

The overall success of the movie is the constant curveballs thrown for us. Nighttime is not always the right time for scary shit to happen. And, unlike Witch, only the demon is invisible, not his actions. Sheets blowing, possession, shadows cast, and (my personal favorite) Katie being dragged out of bed by a hand you can’t see. I definitely lost some sleep over that one.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or so they say. Except when it’s the sincerest form of just being better.

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