Paranormal Activity (2009)
By: James Gillett on June 17, 2010  | 
Icon | Region B | 1.78:1 (1080p) | English DTS MA 5.1 | 86 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Oren Peli
Starring: Micah Sloat, Katie Featherston
Screenplay: Oren Peli
Country: USA
External Links
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The found footage movie, in which a fictional film poses as a home movie or doc, is generally a style you either like or you don't. If you do, you might agree that when done well, they can really bring the scares, and/or the disturbing. Cannibal Holocaust, The Blair Witch Project and REC all managed to use their framework (and lower budgets) to their advantage, creating something that was both memorable and effective. That's not to say they all work; far from it, but I guess what I'm saying is, it seems to be something you can either go with, or maybe it's a concept and style that doesn't really appeal.

Your attraction to Paranormal Activity then, 2009's super hyped entry into the sub-genre, will at least be partially dependent on which category you fall into. If you not quite sure, perhaps you were burnt by Cloverfield or driven to nausea by some of the shakier moments in Blair Witch, but it could be time to give it another shot. Why? Because Paranormal Activity takes a slightly different approach to most of its ilk, and turns its attention to the home in a measured and sometimes static exploration of things that go bump in the night.

When first introduced to Katie and Micah, they're just a young, seemingly normal couple sharing a house in San Diego suburbia. We watch them through the point of view of a camcorder as they pass it around, casually interacting, until Micah sets it up on a tripod to record them while they sleep. See, some strange things have been happening after hours of late, and Micah believes he might be able to catch something that could present an explanation. Upon playing the footage back they soon discover some disturbing going's on which begin to fuel their anxieties, which in turn starts to increase and intensify the occurrences.

Alright, so I've been purposely vague above about what exactly begins to happen, but if the various events and plot points haven't already been spoiled for you, I've done you a favour. Paranormal Activity is best viewed with little or no knowledge of what's about to unfold on screen. That won't be easy I'll grant, since the hype and chatter is near impossible to avoid, which a shame because taken as a little low budget horror flick Paranormal Activity does a pretty good job of creating some creepy moments. It isn't, it must be said, a giant visceral thrill-a-second mega budget extravaganza, but rather a small slow burn horror film with a measured pace that gradually builds tension and dread.

To get right down to it, the reason it works as well as it does is by throwing away your usual roaming adventure found footage template in favour of stillness and silence, and perhaps most importantly, by bringing the horror home. Essentially exploiting fear of the dark, and something out to get you while at you're most vulnerable, the film relies heavily on sound (and some eerie visual glimpses) and works slowly and effectively to get under your skin. The natural performances from the two unknown leads, without which the film simply wouldn't have worked, is another plus, as it strengthens the illusion of the films found footage guise.

But while the overall effect of the movie is strong, particularly the last 20 minutes or so, it still suffers from some of the occasional pitfalls of the sub-genre. The slow build for example, while deliberate and ultimately effective, means it's a little while before the movie really takes off, if only because it initially lacks drama. The shaky hand held photography that's typically unavoidable in these types of flicks is significantly less blatant and frequent here, but it still pops up. It didn't bother me in this instance, and it's obviously suitable in the context of the film, but some people hate it all together, so there you go. What bothers me a little are moments that are a little on to the silly side, like a flaming Ouija board to name but one, but despite those minor gripes the film works very well within its limitations, and second half tends to ramp the chills up enough to make you forget any minor issues.
Presented in 1080P 1:85:1 at 24p, Paranormal Activity looks just how it should on Blu-ray. In other words, it looks like a home movie. Yeah, it's not a particularly pretty picture, but it is faithful to the source material (a Sony FX1 consumer hand held camcorder to be exact), and tends to add to the overall effect of the film. If you want a BD reference disc, this isn't it. If you want to see Paranormal Activity looking how it's supposed to, you're in luck.
The sound fairs a little better, while still sticking within the boundaries of suitability. We get a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that's effectively recreates an appropriate home movie atmosphere while also allowing for a decent boom and lower end clarity when needed. It's a good track that, like the video presentation won't push you system, but it will give you a true recreation of the film as intended. There's also the option of a 2.0 stereo track.
Extra Features
This Blu-ray release contains two versions of the film, the Theatrical Cut supervised by Stephen Spielberg running 86.43 minutes, and an Alternative Version which is essentially the original festival cut of the film, albeit with a new ending running 85.15 minutes. It's a shame the disc doesn't include the first ending of the film, as seen on its original festival run (yep, there are three endings in existence) but at least an Alternate cut is available.

Also here is the ability to jump straight to an alternative ending (the same shown on the alternative cut of the film), an Audio Commentary by Director Oren Peli, a trailer for Nowhere Boy and a 6:30 minute Fan Featurette, which consists of a slideshow of photo's fans sent in as a part of a promotion from Icon, all set to a creepy soundscape. But what's unfortunately missing is some kind of documentary on the film's production and genesis, which considering its low budget roots and massive success could have made for an interesting watch.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
While it may certainly be overhyped, Paranormal Activity does deserve to be seen, perhaps even by those who don't usually go for this kind of film. I say forget everything you've heard, watch it with the lights out and enjoy it for what it is: a slow burn, creepy low budget horror flick which, if nothing else, presents something of a welcome alternative to your typical overly slick and repetitive Hollywood horror fodder.

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