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Dear Paranormal Activity, February 5, 2010

Posted by criticaluniverse in Movies.
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As a child I was subjected to horror movies pretty early on. Sometimes after watching these movies I wouldn’t be able to get to sleep hours after I went to bed. I would lie under the covers thinking of all the possible loose ends that were never tied up and more than once I soaked my pillow with tears. Needless to say I had an overactive imagination and I still do. One particular movie haunted me above all others and that movie was Frailty starring Bill Paxton and Matthew McConaughey. Something about the religious nature of the film scared me more than any hockey-mask wearing slasher ever could. To this date I have not seen a horror film that could measure up to my high standards of fear. 

Granted half of horror films of the last decade have been American versions of Japanese movies featuring pale young women with damp hair covering their faces crawling on ceilings and walls. The other half has been tedious remakes of American classics like Halloween and Amityville Horror. Oh and then there is the torture porn of the Saw series and the two Hostel films. It has not been a Golden Age of Fear. But then I saw the preview for Paranormal Activity and even my jaded skepticism was briefly diminished. Paranormal Activity takes a hint from movies such as The Blair Witch Project, Last Broadcast, Cannibal Holocaust, and Quarantine. In my opinion all of these movies are several degrees better than Paranormal Activity. 

And then I actually watched Paranormal Activity. I watched all 92 minutes of Paranormal Activity. After weeks of being told just how scary and refreshing it was I spent my dollar at Red Box and rented this horrible excuse for cinema. Paranormal Activity was filmed on a $15,000 budget with a 7-day shooting schedule. In this aspect I have to salute Oren Peli, the film’s director. For such success on his first attempt he definitely should be watched closely. Now for the criticism. I am extremely thankful for the movie’s short run time. Had I not been obligated to watch it or admit a completely wasted dollar, I would have hit power on the DVD player around minute 32. Luckily Peli must have decided a movie about doors slamming could only last so long. 

The two main character’s acting wasn’t particularly dreadful. They reacted reasonably enough. But then there is the psychic. I hope that no one ever mistakenly hires Mark Fredrichs for an acting gig because of the success of Paranormal Activity. The first time Mr. Fredrichs appears in the film his acting is passable, granted psychics can be somewhat looney. But when Mr. Fredrichs shows up later in the film to tell the woman being haunted that he couldn’t help her I fell off the couch laughing. I may have seen a worse performance at some point in my life but if I have then I lack all recollection of it. 

The thing is Paranormal Activity wants to be scary. With “reality” shows like Paranormal State and Ghost Hunters on TV it was only a matter of time before someone made a movie with the concept. Oren Peli was obviously reaching for a sense of reality with this, and for good reason. Reality, sometimes stranger than fiction, can also be scarier. But this is not the case. This is one circumstance that is quite the opposite. If I was interested in slamming doors I would rewatch the State of the Union address and take out my frustration on my bedroom entryway. There is one moment I found genuinely creepy, the scene where Katie is dragged out of her bed and down the stairs by an invisible “demon”. Word is that there is a sequel planned but this time I will be sure to conserve my one hundred pennies wisely.