Paranormal Activity (2007)
November 17, 2021 10:50 AM - Subscribe

Soon after moving into a suburban tract home, Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) become increasingly disturbed by what appears to be a supernatural presence. Hoping to capture evidence of it on film, they set up video cameras in the house but are not prepared for the terrifying events that follow.

Currently streaming in the US on Starz and available for digital rental.
posted by DirtyOldTown (7 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
However much I liked this film the first time, I was still selling it short. Yes, it lives up to its rep as a very clever use of the found footage model. The time lapse scenes where Katie stands ominously for 30, 60, 90 minutes? Shrewd use of video as a medium. And yes, its pacing is fearlessly deliberate, its FX are minimal, and the dread is mostly implied. It's a crackerjack-clever little no budget gem.

That said, it's even more than that. This movie is already laying the groundwork for what, to my eyes, is the theme of the series: what happens if we abandon religion and we're wrong; what if it's all real and we have given up all of our touchpoints and references for how to deal with evil? Katie and Micah aren't coded as atheists, as far as I can tell, just young people who don't have any relationship with religion. A demon comes for Katie and the best they can come up with is "Cool, let's film it!" and "We should call somebody or something." By the time Katie actually has a cross in her hand, it's a confused and desperate gesture, not connected to any discernible faith.

I think that's the enduring appeal of the series. All great horror series about about some primal fear and this series actually staked out one that had not been explored well in recent years within the commercial sphere.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:57 AM on November 17, 2021 [7 favorites]

Micah makes the film work. Reasonable Katie knows to leave well enough alone. But Micah, full of day trader hubris, just has to keep poking at the bear until the bear pokes back.

In terms of the backstory of the Paranormal Activity series, the first film doesn't do much except establish that the "phenomenon" is something known to Katie and something she'd prefer to forget about. But there is a subtle bit that didn't strike me until I saw the other films: Katie's pricey car. You know, for a student and a day trader, Katie and Micah don't appear short of funds. This is elaborated upon by PA II and III, but the car in PA I makes me wonder if that was intentional.
posted by SPrintF at 11:17 AM on November 17, 2021

I remember this movie as the exact spot where I began to just not know what the fuck was going on in popular culture anymore, lol. I was bored out of my mind by this, and people couldn't get enough of it. Ninety minutes of a spooky baby monitor. I'm at a loss, man.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:56 AM on November 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'm not a fan of found footage, and I love this movie because so much of the scares are things that I might possibly encounter (like loud unknown sounds-happens in my mom's farmhouse all the time) slowly build to something really sinister. It's also a film where the characters react in what I think is a fairly realistic way. One just wants to pretend it never happened, and the other has this fascination and bravado.

While I love this film, it unfortunately inspired soooooooooooo many other film that then added a bunch of special effects and genre tropes ignoring that what made the original effective was its restraint.
posted by miss-lapin at 9:03 AM on November 18, 2021

It's currently streaming on Starz
posted by miss-lapin at 9:06 AM on November 18, 2021

the dread is mostly implied

This, to my mind, is why it works. Your better filmmakers realize that whatever the audience can conjure is much better than whatever the makeup and wardrobe people can put together.

I had a class in school with the hippy-dippy name “Man and Society” taught by the aging hippy Mr. Maurice. It was, in retrospect, a mixture of sociology, anthropology, media studies, and some Howard Zinnesque history, but I was twelve, so what did I know?

In any event, at one point we were studying radio dramas, and alone among his year of lessons, this one has stuck with me — he said something to the effect of, “If a movie director wants to scare you, maybe he puts a big shaggy blue thing peering into the window. But say Cynthia here,” gesturing toward my classmate, “thinks big shaggy blue things are adorable but she is terrified of short, hairless green things. The effect is ruined for her but a radio show doesn’t have that issue.”

Anyway, I enjoyed the movie decently enough at the time and I recall an acquaintance deriding it: “So they are upstairs and a demon turns on the lights downstairs?!? Doesn’t seem too scary to me.” The essence is that there is another intelligence here. Subtract the supernatural element: if you and your spouse are upstairs and are the only ones in the house and a light goes on and then back off downstairs, do you shrug and go to sleep or wonder if someone else is in the house and go investigate?

I faintly recall a DVD alternate ending which decided to show us more and was not a tenth as effective to my thinking.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:48 PM on November 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

I read a bunch of Ed and Lorraine Warren books around middle school (I will never understand WHY the school library had so many of them) and when I saw this the first time, about halfway in realized that the story felt familiar because it follows the pattern the Warrens claimed hauntings took, in which demons would start small, escalate up to harassment and outright oppression in order to wear down the victim's spirit, culminating in possession. Somehow that made it scarier, knowing that they were operating on a structure actual people (even if not me) actually believe in.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:01 PM on November 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

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