Kate Featherston, Micah Sloat
4 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
There's plenty of gripping activity - paranormal and otherwise - in this claustrophobic ghost story. "Paranormal Activity" proves you don't need a big budget, endless slasher scenes or mutant mayhem to register high grade chills.
Writer/director Oren Peli's simple script uses fear and the audience's apprehension to create an edge-of-your-seat tension-filled atmosphere that fires up the imagination. There were moments in this iconic Indie production when my heart skipped and I jumped in my seat - and I haven't done that since a dead body popped out of a sunken hull in "Jaws."
"Paranormal Activity" centers around Kate, a college student and her boyfriend, Micah, a day-trader. The only crimp in the San Diego couple's connubial bliss is the spirit that's haunted Kate since her childhood. It's followed her from place to place, and is now making its presence known in the couple's two-story apartment.
Micah buys a video camera in the hope of catching the ghost going bump in the night. At first the camera doesn't register anything more than the couple sleeping peacefully. As the nights pass, lights click on and off by themselves, objects appear to move on their own, raspy voices whisper and shapeless shadows silently stalk across the room. The ghost's actions escalate, prompting Kate to contact a psychic who immediately feels the spirit's "negative energy" and urges the couple to seek help from a higher authority (not God, a more qualified psychic). The psychic also warns the couple not to try and communicate with the spirit. To Micah, the warning is like telling a precocious child not to stick a wet finger into a light socket. Against Kate's vehement protests, Micah gets a Ouija Board, challenging the ghost to talk to him. That night the camera records the Ouija Board going up in flames. Challenge answered - and the ghost is now very, very angry...
It would have been easy for Peli to fall into horror movie clichés, creating a snaggle-toothed wraith that terrorizes the couple, or having Kate spit green pea soup and spin her head around. What makes "Paranormal Activity" so frightening is not what you see, but what your mind thinks it sees. We're given glimpses of the malevolent ghost - a crossing shadow, footprints. It's the atmosphere of dread, the anticipation of danger, and the unanswered questions that will keep you wide-eyed. Does the ghost live in the attic? (Okay, ghosts don't live.) What's the significance of the scorched childhood photo of Kate, and where did it come from? Why does the ghost haunt Kate? We're given hints, but it's up to the audience's imagination to fill in the blanks, which serves to tap into those childhood fears you thought you'd buried long ago.
If it wasn't for one of the actors giving a slightly off-putting performance I'd give "Paranormal" a full five stars. (Since it's essentially a two character movie, casting is a serious matter.) Yes, it's true, leading lady Kate Featherston answered an ad posted on Craigslist and won the role. She and her co-star Micah Sloat were paid $500 for their roles - I bet they wish they had a share of the profits instead. Featherstone isn't what you'd expect in a horror flick, given it takes place mostly in a bedroom. She's no big-lunged scantily clad blonde bimbo. (If this were a lesser film I'd be upset about that.) That Featherstone looks like the average big-boned brunette you might pass on the street is an advantage - her slightly freckled All American look makes her a more believable victim. On the other hand, as Kate's non-believing, over confident, obnoxious boyfriend, Sloat's annoying activities pushed a few too many of my negative buttons. I'll give him some props - at the beginning of the film I hated him for his stubbornness and how he trivialized Kate's fears. By the end of the movie, Micah was more of the white knight he was supposed to be, but Sloat's nay saying nagging made him hard to like; he needed to ease up on the intensity accelerator a bit.
Sit down with someone you can hang on to when you watch "Paranormal Activity." But make sure you leave the lights on.