Capone is physically injured from the terrifying PARANORMAL ACTIVITY at Fantastic Fest!!!
Published at: Sept. 25, 2009, 2:56 p.m. CST by Capone
Hey, everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
So I woke up this morning after my first full day of Fantastic Fest 2009, and I noticed something when I looked in the mirror. I had a small scratch on my left temple, just above my eyebrow. I didn't give it much thought at first, but I'm usually aware when I have even the smallest injury to my person. Last night, I ended the day watching a midnight showing of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, and no, I'm not going to launch into a story about how I believe some unseen entity scratched me in my sleep. But after collecting my thoughts on writing this review, it hit me that I knew exactly what that mark on my head was.
I spent about 90 percent of the movie with my left hand kind of cupped around my left eye (not covering it, just kind of framing it on one side) and some how the not-very-long nail on my middle finger kept digging into my forehead, eventually leaving a mark. When I got back to my room after the movie, I immediately crashed (Harry's introductory prediction of having trouble getting to sleep last night did not come true for me). I still get exhausted on travel days, so I'm not even sure I saw myself in the mirror before zonking out. But having assessed the damage and determined its cause, all I could think of was, "Wow, that's how worked up that movie made me." You have to understand, most horror films don't scare me. I still jump at loud noises in movies, as I do in life, but that's not the same thing. I can't remember the last time I was this genuinely anxious (as in full of anxiety) while watching a movie. I'm not the kind of person who ever screams during a scary movie, but I found myself whispering "Oh no" more than once last night. I knew what I was watching wasn't real, but that didn't seem to make a difference.
By now, you probably know the story of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY if you really want to. It's not complicated. A young unmarried couple who have recently moved in together begin having strange things happen in their new home--small things moving, lights on and off, noises in the night--and they decide to document the going on and present them to an expert in such phenomenon. The film takes on the guise of "found footage"--the only thing we see on screen appears to be shot by one member of the couple. I never bought that, as the story progresses, this was found footage, but it really doesn't matter. There are just a few too many ultra-convenient things that happen right on cue. As the pair attempt to uncover what exactly is happening to them, Katie (Katie Featherston) reveals a few things about her past that help to explain most of the occurrences. Boyfriend Micah (Micah Sloat) is supportive at first and attempts to take the lead on ridding their lives of this major problem. But things like a found photo, a web site that documents an almost identical event many years earlier, and one or two other coincidences don't really add to the reality of the situation. Still, as I said, it doesn't matter for one very simple reason--a camera placed in the corner of the room every night, chronicling the couple sleeping.
We return to this shot throughout PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. We see the entire bed on the right side of the screen and down a short hallway, illuminated by a bathroom light at the other end. The stair leading down to the living room are just outside the open bedroom door, but they are in total darkness. And every time we see this shot, with a helpful timecode in the corner, we stop breathing and we want it to be over as soon as possible. There is absolutely nothing scarier than real darkness. Not this blue-light crap that Hollywood horror films pass for the dark of night, but real blackness in which you cannot see a thing. When Micah and Katie go in search of a strange thud in the night, the only light source is coming from the camera. Just beyond the light is…well, it could be anything. There's one shot where Micah thinks he's alone upstairs with the camera, and he whips around to find Katie simply standing there behind him. But because she literally came out of the dark, it fucked my shit up and gave me my biggest scare of the film.
A few minor elements didn't work for me. The visit from the psychic is pure exposition--this might be a ghost or a demon; don't antagonize it; don't try to communicate with it. All of these things the couple (primarily Micah), of course, do because nothing else seems to work. Still, I found myself getting increasingly frustrated with Micah's behavior. At times, he takes the experiences quite seriously; other times he jokes with the unseen being in a "Is that all you got?" alpha-male kind of posturing. It's obnoxious more than anything else. Again, this minor infractions all kind of vanish from memory when writer-director Oren Peli returns to that static camera shot in the bedroom and we begin to hear a low-level hum that tells us something--big or small, but always fucking creepy--is about to happen.
The slow-burn pacing of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is what absolutely sealed the deal for me. This film is patient even when we're clamoring for more. Peli knows exactly what he's doing and he slowly spoon feeds us tasty morsels of terror. After each bedroom situation, we feel we've survived an ordeal, even when very little has happened. And, holy Christ, are we happen when the film cuts to the daylight hours…until even the daylight ceases to give us salvation. So here's my pitch to those of you who have seen the film or those of you who are beyond eager to see it play near you. Contact Paramount Pictures and demand that they open this thing. Yes, it's a marketing scheme, because I can't imagine Paramount won't release this freaky bit of perfection. If they don't release it, I'm making a citizen's arrest in protest. Prepare yourself for something that actually lives up to the advanced word, and prepare yourself for assloads of people who pretend PARANORMAL ACTIVITY didn't scare them. Well, those folks are all liars.
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