Looking back, I think how best to evaluate my viewing experience of Paramount Pictures’ supernatural mockumentary, Paranormal Activity is to touch upon the three “life lessons” that I learned during the course of the film:
1. Nothing good EVER happens after 2 A.M.
Paranormal Activity is the story of Katie and Micah (named after the actual names of the actors to give it authencity), a twenty-something couple slowly adjusting to being housemates and very much in love. However their idylic lifestyle is soon undermined by a series of eerie, nightly occurrences (all around 2 – 3 A.M., of course, because…I guess apparitions / demons need ample time to leave the clubs after last call) that slowly, but ever SO surely escalate into the realm of “supernatural hauntings.”
At first, the occurrences can be rationalized away as just that: occurrences. In reality, it’s OKAY that doors creek with no cause or reason. It’s OKAY that household objects mysteriously end up somewhere else. HOWEVER, it is NOT OKAY that footsteps emanate…from empty stairwells…with frightening clarity. It is NOT OKAY that Ouiji boards move (and light aflame) with no manual input. And it is DEFINITELY NOT OK that at one early point in the film….grrr…must…not…spoil…oh ok…one spoiler…sleepwalking occurs.
At it’s core, Paranormal Activity brings to the forefront our most primal fears of the unknown and more importantly, of the D.A.R.K. The movie posits this unsettling yet, still plausible scenario: what happens when the place that most people deem the safest, namely their homes, suddenly becomes dangerously, and ultimately fatally, UNSAFE? After seeing this film, prepare to think twice about every creek, squeek, thump, thud, crash, and any other onomatopeia that you may vaguely hear in the wee hours of the morning (and afternoon too; at one point in the film, Micah hilariously asks his wife whether “this shit happens in the daytime too?”)…I know I do.
2. You can never know too much about your significant other.
Much to Micah’s hilarious chagrin, Katie let’s it slip that these occurrences have been a recurring experience for her since puberty (every five years to be exact). Micah’s insistence that he document the experience with a robust array of audio / video equipment (and baby powder…you’ll see) as a means to catch the ‘culprit’ incites an overnight breakdown of trust and communication as Katie’s disapproval of Micah’s plans eventually reaches epic proportions. It is both hilarious and poignant to see Micah struggle to see where Katie’s “insane female logic” stops and Katie’s “vulnerable ingenue” persona starts. On the other hand, Micah’s alpha male bravado in the face of adversity can become so ridiculous and irritable that Katie, at one point, kicks Micah out of their sacred bedroom, leaving Micah to slyly retort, “Fine! I’ll just let you and ‘your friend’ hang out while I chill downstairs.” Suffice it to say, Paranormal Activity is as much a story of relationship woes as it is a psychological fright-fest.
3. Less is More.
The movie wears it’s low-budget heart on its proverbial sleeve; a $15,000, 103 minute, handheld effort that suffered through little in the way of notable actors, budget, visual effects, and alot in the way of numerous test screenings and rewrites prior, I believe that Paranormal Activity has a bit of a climb en route from underground phenomenon to Monday morning watercooler talk. If it ultimately is glossed over by movie audiences (and from the buzz from Friday’s screening, I highly doubt it) then that would be an ill-advised ‘pass’ by casual moviegoers: A big part of why the movie works is that if you’re a firm believer that the “anticipation of fear” is worse than “fear” itself, then prepare to have your convictions justified. To put it bluntly, it effs with your mind, if you let it.
By relying more on minimalist storytelling (you never actually SEE the malevolent entity, but an overall sense of dread is truly felt throughout the film via the use of simple, yet hauntingly ambient house sounds, claustrophic and disorienting camera angles, the damning rants supplemented by the local paranormalist / Mr. Exposition, and of course, the two actors themselves, who together, give a honest portrayal of a couple on a psychological downward spiral) the movie TRULY manages to get under your skin by relying more on what you can’t see rather than explain everything for you (see the remakes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre & Halloween as cautionary tales on how ‘More’ is actually ‘less’). Again, it is never explained precisely why Katie has been targeted for a haunting. It is never explained why their TV spontaneously turns on, or why their bedsheets suddenly move on their own, or why pictures of Micah suddenly start splintering (man oh man does this thing NOT like him), or even the ending, which if you’ve already watched, is…well, I won’t spoil it, but to use a sports metaphor, it’s definitely “the money shot.” And speaking of money shots and the saying, ‘less is more,’ I’ll refrain from going into more depth about the content of the film; the less you know going into the film, the better.
Overall, the point that both the film and I are trying to make is that sometimes, being in the dark, both figuratively and literally, can inspire bouts of pure paranoia from anyone. I’ll be upfront when I admit that had I been in that situation, if my own fortitude would hold out; without a doubt, the answer is “NO.” HELL, NO. In fact, as I hobbled out of the theatre, on edge and very much in a state of palpable paranoia, I glanced at my group of friends and they quickly glanced back at me and a consensus was immediately reached: Group sleepover anyone?