Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Paranormal Activity

"Mic' and Kate + Legion"

Micah and Katie (Micah Sloat, Katie Featherston) are two young people in love. She wants to be a teacher, and he's a day-trader, they're "engaged to be engaged" and so they move in together. When we meet them, Micah has become engrossed with video cameras, and is documenting their lives. It's not some weird viral community experiment. Well, actually it is. Micah and Katie have another tenant. And it's keeping them awake nights.

Weird noises.

The faucets turn on (when they don't remember turning them on).

Whispers. Bumps in the night.

So, Micah has invested in video cameras to document it. We see them experiment with them, play with them—
the footage is as vérité as it gets, and were it not for the fact that the two yuppies are slightly annoying in their own ways, it would be fascinating.

But the movie starts to cook in odd ways
when the camera is locked down for the night and focussed on the couple's bedroom. With rudimentary titles documenting the day and the particular night after filming, you tend to focus on the timer, which is used to fast-forward through the night and then stops at the time when an "event" happens. To describe what happens will spoil the thrills that "Paranormal Activity" provides.*

And it does provide them.**

There's nothing new here. Director Oren Peli who conceived, financed, cast and shot the film in seven days (for a paltry $15,000.00—it made double that on its opening night...in one theater) in his home (which he got to re-decorate as a tax write-off) follows some tried and true audience manipulation that was prevalent far before similar films, like "The Blair Witch Project" (and, from the previews, the upcoming "The Fourth Kind"). Pace the thrills, and spend the rest of the time talking about them and amping up the anticipation. Wince and repeat. Accelerate. Though the film has gotten some professional once-overs that led to tightening and a new ending,***
it is essentially the same film that Peli made in 2007—strong enough to be released in its original rough-hewn condition (narrowly avoiding a more glossy remake).

The interesting thing about "
Paranormal Activity" (other than it being so damned effective) is the way it has been released.

Check that.

It wasn't released. It escaped.

After making some limited rounds on the film festival circuit, and being passed around by Hollywood mucky-mucks—who wanted to re-film it (after all, they're in the business of generating funds for projects)—it was released in a very limited capacity, with internet options set up to generate word-of-mouth response and demand for it. For instance, when it opened in Seattle on Friday, October 10th it was playing at 2 theaters. When I saw it on October 16th, it was at ten. It appears to be alive...and it's growing.

As with any "good" horror movie, "
Paranormal Activity" is about something else than generating goose-bumps. There has to be an underlying shared experience in our collective spines—a "polter-zeitgeist," if you will—that allows them to shiver, and where "P.A." digs in and eviscerates is in the relationship between men and women. Things start with the sorts of things that can happen when two people move in and don't know each other's habits—things get moved, or forgetfulness sets in, the usual annoyances that go with merging life-styles. And Micah and Katie react differently to the crisis: she wants to call in "experts;"**** he is skeptical and sees the poltergeistian activity as an invasion, an affront to his ego and man-hood. That he doesn't listen very well, or follow orders and only makes things worse runs with his reputation as a day-trader, a "Master of his Own Universe."

But it's not this Universe we're talking about, now. Is it?

Soon, the couple starts to bicker, and as they begin to lose more sleep, splinter apart psychologically. Their relationship is being attacked from within and, more to the point, without.

In the war between men and women, the Devil knows who'll win.

"Paranormal Activity" is a Matinee. Best to see it during the day (Buwha-ha-hah-hah)

* The film so freaked out Steven Spielberg that he brought his screener DVD back in a plastic garbage bag, rather than touch it.

** I used to work at a place that was haunted (no, really). Keys would drop to the floor of their own volition. Wallets would have their contents scattered across the floor. Footsteps would be heard coming up the stairs and no one would be there when you went out to greet them. Doors shut (with no one present to shut them). There'd be gusts of wind in completely sealed off spaces (cold wind, mind you). "Things" would appear to people. There's a lot of that in "Paranormal Activity." It felt vaguely familiar. The first night after seeing it I couldn't sleep, and I tend to be more alert when there are rumbling fly-overs from McChord AFB.

*** One of the concerns of the Hollywood "suits" was the number of walk-out's the movie generates (and there were a few at the screening I attended). But, they're not because people don't like the movie; they're leaving because the film scares the bee-jezes out of them.

**** One of the straight-faced humor moments is when the "Psychic" tells the couple that he probably can't help them—that they'll have to contact a demonologist. Just like doctors: "You'll have to see a specialist."

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