In spite of what the hype machine might want you to believe, this is not the scariest movie ever, it’s not even in the top ten. What it does do better than almost any film I’ve seen is create a frightening atmosphere. Big scares are few and few between but this film elicits sustained, and often intense, tension for nearly all of its 86 minutes. In this respect, it far outstrips the seemingly bottomless well of torture porn that modern horror films have become and proves itself more sophisticated than most of its big budget counter-parts.
The plot revolves around a young couple being haunted by a demonic presence in their new home. Things are shot in the faux-amateur video style of The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, though far more effectively than either of those films. The supernatural events are, for the most part, so grounded and plausible that the “found footage” conceit doesn’t feel like a gimmick. This move is, literally, about things that go bump in the night and just how terrifying that can be. We’ve been afraid of strange noises, shadows, etc. at some point in our lives and Paranormal Activity plays on those fears expertly. Things escalate so slowly that by the time the supernatural gloves really come off we’re ready to buy into it.
As good as the premise and its execution are, this film is hurt by some poor characters. Poor decision making is a hallmark of modern horror, but the boyfriend (Micha Sloat) is stupid enough to undermine the realism of the rest of the movie. Katie Featherston is fine as the girlfriend, growing progressively more stressed and haggard as events unfold, but there’s really not enough to her character to explain why she puts up with her boyfriend’s idiocy. Combine this with an utterly flat supporting cast and you’ll find yourself eagerly awaiting the next night vision shot of their bedroom when you’ll find yourself jumping at a creaky door and some flickering lights.
Overall, this is one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in recent years and the box office returns (especially compared to Saw VI) are an encouraging sign that audiences may finally have grown out of the torture-loving phase and are ready for some real scares.
Who should see it: Fans of Blair Witch and Cloverfield, anyone who’s tired of the “things jumping out at you” scare tactics
Who shouldn’t see it: Anyone who thinks the Saw films aren’t utter shit, those without enough of an attention span to appreciate 86 minutes of suspense with a chase or a fight scene.