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Review: Paranormal Activity

March 10th, 2008

If you read about the world of independent film, than you’ve probably already heard about the independent horror film Paranormal Activity. This movie by writer/director Oren Peli was a selection at Slamdance 2008 and won an Honorable Mention for Best Actress at Screamfest.


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Continuing in the vein of “found footage” fake-documentary movies like The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield, to quote the movie’s website, Paranormal Activity is about “A young couple suspects that their house is haunted by a malevolent entity. They set up video surveillance to capture evidence of what happens at night as they sleep. Their surveillance and home videos have been edited into the 99-minute feature film.” This movie is essentially a reality television version of a haunted house movie on a microbudget level.

What sets this movie apart is the minimalist approach that Peli uses to create sequences of suspense. The entire story takes place in one location, literally. There’s no score or music and the effects are kept to a bare minimum. What makes the story work are the actors, who are believable in their performances if not their actions. They work with the dialogue in a naturalistic way and avoid the shrieking histrionics of Heather in The Blair Witch Project. The handheld camera work is dizzying and nausea-inducing at times but helps to create a documentary authenticity that the movie strives for. The suspense sequences and chills are done well and earned. The movie wisely keeps the malevolent spirit out of sight and relies heavily on sound and anticipation for its terror.

What may be more fascinating than the movie’s story, which I found dull and boring at times, is the story of the filmmaker Oren Peli. Shooting the entire movie in a week on a $3000 camera in his own house with two unknown actors, Peli spent a year editing the film before selling the all the domestic and remake rights to Dreamworks and the international distribution rights to IM Global for near seven figures. In addition, Dreamworks has planned a bigger budgeted remake to be directed by Peli and released theatrically.

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