paranormal inactivity

1 November 2009, 8:40 am

It’s really hard to talk about Paranormal Activity without spoilers, but I’ll do my best. It has a somewhat different trick from Blair Witch Project, but like the earlier film it is a one-trick pony; it has some of the same strengths, but suffers from all of the same flaws. It depends on surprise for a lot of its scare value, but its structure telegraphs its surprises in advance. (While watching it, I kept having “wouldn’t it be scary if. . .” thoughts, most of which had to do with the film deviating from the formal narrative structure it established. But basically, if I’m thinking of ways to make a horror film scarier while watching it, it’s failed for me.) And as with Blair Witch Project, I found the characters’ reactions fundamentally implausible — they are completely lacking in a near-universal response to horrific situations in the real world.

On the bright side, I applaud any horror film that eschews gore and avoids sexism. Micah Sloat and Katie Featherstone’s performances are excellent; the script feels like it could have been totally improvised, which is praise in the context of the film’s pseudo-documentary approach. It’s also potentially interesting to look at the movie as an extended metaphor for differing male and female communication dynamics: Micah insists on trying to solve the problem, but that’s not Katie’s goal. (I think Micah’s character would have been more believable, if no less unsympathetic, if greed had been more clearly established as a motive for his behavior.) Finally, I have to respect a film that gets broad distribution, and looks like it was shot with a minimal budget — the economy of all aspects of the production is astounding.

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