I’m tasked with reviewing this movie but am utterly loath to give away any of the events of the movie itself. I’ll keep it very, very basic (and I encourage you to skip any Paranormal Activity trailers, commercials, or in-depth descriptions): A couple has been experiencing strange events in their house so the boyfriend (Micah) buys a video camera to catch it on film so they can maybe figure out what’s happening. That’s about all you need to know about the plot. The movie is filmed entirely with Micah’s camera and it alternates between daytime shots, where the couple discuss what’s happening, and a static nighttime bedroom shot, where Micah sets the camera on a tripod so they can see what happens while they sleep. Aside from allowing some breathing room between scares, the alternating day-and-night mechanic is extremely efficient at creating a basic psychological response for the viewer–as soon as you see that static night shot, you tense up, grab the arm rest, your eyes start to water, and you get goose bumps like no one’s business–and nothing’s even happened yet.
In many ways the conventions and technique are similar to Blair Witch (hand-held camera unknown actors, minuscule budget), but the skills on display in terms of the simple practical effects, the pacing, and the acting are miles beyond. The scenes that take place at night are so expertly timed and built up that it’s an absolute joy to watch unfold. By the end of the movie the theater was full of nervous, uneasy laughter as that not-quite night vision camera comes on. The sound editing is on point and practically deserves its own credit as a character, from subtle vocal effects to footsteps to very loud (very scary) bangs. If the visuals weren’t enough to make you wet your pants, the sound effects will push you the rest of the way. It is awesome.
I have a ton more to say, but this movie should be enjoyed with as little knowledge as possible so I’ll end this review with a question- When was the last time you were ill-at-ease watching or leaving a horror movie? Modern “horror” movies are very rarely actually scary. They might make you jump or gross you out, but they never genuinely scare you. It’s super frustrating Paranormal Activity does its damnedest to reverse that trend. It is horrifying. I have to go to sleep in a little bit and just looking at my bed gives me the creeps.
ScreenJunkies — Brian Huntington