Paranormal Activity is one of those “found footage” horror films that surfaces every few years to scare the latest crop of high school and college students. These horror fans generally love them because there’s always that slight possibility that they might be real. Movie studios love them unconditionally because they are always so damned profitable.
Paranormal Activity is the story of a woman, Katie, living with her boyfriend, Micah, in his house in San Diego, California. Micah is a day trader, and Katie is a student. Katie has already revealed to Micah that she’s been bothered by some kind of ghost ever since she was a kid before the movie starts. Also, early in the movie, Katie brings in a psychic who tells them she is haunted by a demon that feeds off negative energy, and that she should not communicate with it. Naturally, Micah has the idea to put a video camera in their bedroom so it can record what, if anything, happens while they’re asleep. Oh, and he also sets about looking for ways to communicate with it.
That this couple is in trouble is apparent early on.
Despite Katie’s insistence that she hates Ouija boards and doesn’t want Micah to bring one into the house, Micah does just that. And what do we see one night when they both leave the house with the camera running in the living room? The planchette moves around the board spelling out some mysterious message and then the board bursts into flames. Take that, asshole boyfriend who never listens and refuses to acknowledge my feelings!
To be fair, though, the camera captures a lot of odd, but minor, events for the next several nights – noises, lights, doors closing, creaks, more flickering lights and eventually, a demon screeching. During the day, Micah often picks up the camera and follows Katie around while he’s talking to her about her ghost experiences, including into the bathroom. One night Micah decides to sprinkle baby powder all over the floor in their bedroom, and the camera records strange footprints being made in the powder. The weird footprints lead to the attic and up in the attic is a burned photo of Katie when she was a girl. When Katie becomes upset and wants to talk to a demonologist, Micah hates the idea, which is odd, given that he’s been so into “investigating” this whole haunting thing up until that point. However, when the demonologist is unavailable (how busy can those guys be?) she begs the original psychic to come back. Again, against Micah’s wishes. When the psychic does show up again, he is such a useless weenie – refusing to do anything to help them because it would only make the demon angrier – that he’s an embarrassment to psychics everywhere.
Despite the obvious low-budget clunking (bad dialogue, bad acting, and implausible plot points) this film did have its moments – I thought the scene where something pulled the covers off one of them was good and creepy. Ditto for the scene where Katie gets out of bed in the middle of the night and just stands there, looking at her sleeping boyfriend – for two hours!
In general, this film was a disappointment, but not because it didn’t have a lot of cool special effects, or that it was slow in places. It failed, for me, mainly because Katie and Micah – the people we should be rooting for — quickly reveal themselves to be dim-witted and unlikeable. Since there was no real script (the actors were given a general outline of the scene before shooting and told to improvise), we are left to blame the actors in this situation and not, for once, the writers.