I’m going to be honest. A large part of why I hate Paranormal Activity as much as I do is because it swindled me out of nine dollars and fifty cents. After seeing three or four months worth of previews for the movie, I was as excited as anyone else to experience the horror. After spending nearly two hours sitting in the theater however, I was ready to commit brutal and bloody homicide. Unfortunately, the only person around after the film ended was a sixteen year old-looking boy standing behind the candy counter who looked terrified when I asked for my money back. I explained that I hated the movie and wanted a refund; that if I could erase what I had just seen from my memory I would have done that as well. Suffice it to say, he was unhelpful. Feeling robbed, cheated, and lied to I left the movie theater wishing I’d seen Sorority Row.
When the movie started, I was still foolishly anticipating the “scariest movie of the past ten years.” Fifteen seconds later, I was already disappointed. The deeply sincere documentary tone of the movie irked me because I felt like it insulted my intelligence. “The producers would like to thank the families and authorities for the footage” nonsense implies that I’m supposed to believe that these are real recordings. That Katie and Micah have suffered some terrible fate instead of raking in millions of undeserved dollars. The whole thing brought back horrific memories of the Blair Witch Project, which I don’t even want to talk about.
Moving beyond the unnecessary reality-TV feel of the opening, I had still hoped to enjoy the majority of the film. These hopes were largely dashed after four hours or so of having to watch Katie and Micah videotape themselves. I understand that there’s supposed to be the obligatory “meet the characters intro” to get the audience emotionally invested, but they took it a little too far. All the videotaping in the bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen, while studying, while teeth brushing, while taking the decorative pillows off the duvet; videotaping themselves on the couch while he’s “playing the guitar” and she’s knitting for God’s sake. We get the message: this could happen to anyone, even people who know how to crochet.
I will not overanalyze every scene of this movie; going through it once was more than enough, but there are a few points I’d like to discuss. The first of which being that even Paranormal Activity can’t pass up a good fake scare. After the war and peace-length character introduction, a handful of creaky noises and a bedroom door moving back and forth a few inches, Katie screams bloody murder off-scene one afternoon. The audience thinks that the party’s started; they are wrong. It is a spider.
The longer I sit in the theater, the more I realize that this movie is less about demonic possession than it is about the dysfunctional relationship between Katie and Micah. By the forty five minute mark, I find myself aggravated more by Micah than by the demon. He stomps around the house like a child, yelling threats at the invisible evil entity, and becoming irrationally infuriated when Katie wants to do something logical, like call in an expert. After telling Katie to chill seven or eight hundred times, Micah flips from child mode into abusive husband mode when she tries (continually) to ask his permission to call the demonologist. Despite the increasing amount of evidence of a supernatural bad guy, Micah thinks that taunting and threatening will be highly effective tactics. One of my favorite moments involves him shouting into thin air that this thing can’t come into his house and do whatever it wants, it doesn’t work that way. Oh really? Because it seems to be working exactly that way.
More effective even than Micah’s withering verbal onslaught is his bright idea to set a trap. Earlier, with the highly successful EVP session, I had assumed that Micah had seen a few too many episodes of Ghost Hunters. With the development of the powder-on-the-floor scheme I knew it was even worse than that. The only things missing were a cardboard box propped up by a stick with a string tied around it. Maybe a little bologna for bait and they would’ve caught that pesky demon. Apparently he’s been taking trapping lessons from the Scooby Doo gang; Fred would be proud.
If this didn’t strain credulity already, the audience is urged to believe that the demon, in a moment of Tom Sawyer-ish mischief uses the trap to ensnare Micah and Katie in one of its own. In the attic they find a photograph of Young Katie standing in front of her old house. But her childhood home was reduced to ashes in a fire so many years ago, how is this possible?! Am I supposed to believe that this demon, after burning her first house down, carried her picture around in his metaphysical pocket for fifteen years before tricking them into an Easter egg hunt to recover it? I was not convinced.
Despite the painfully slow progression of the movie, even I will concede certain chilling moments that the film does well. Katie’s propensity for sleepwalking, for standing and apparently staring at Micah’s sleeping body for hours strikes the proper chords of eerie disquiet. Even better, the scene where Katie is dragged out of the bedroom by the ankle was for me the high point of the movie. Frustratingly, though, the rest of the action takes place off-scene, eliminating the need for something more developed or interesting to be captured on camera. And this illustrated for me an exasperating pattern in the movie. Every time something interesting starts to happen, the scene flips to de-escalating action before the peak of excitement is even reached. Much like porn to a 13 year old boy, these brief moments of creepy activity serve only as teases for the audience, leaving them unsatisfied when they realize all they got was foreplay, no climax. An hour of false titillation later, the build-up has lost what little appeal it once had and you find yourself wondering when it’s going to be over because all you’re doing is sitting there screwing yourself.
After an hour of sitting through what I can only qualify as sheer disappointment, I’m hoping that Micah’s going to die, and I’m so tired of Katie’s whining that I don’t really care what happens to her anymore. I’m actually angry at the demon for drawing this out as long as he has and I’m debating whether or not it would be worth the satisfaction of giving the entire screen the finger. Being escorted out by security would actually be a pleasure at this point. I managed to refrain, but I did applaud the people behind me starting to boo.
By the time the credits rolled, I knew for certain why the movie had only cost a hundred fifty dollars or so to make. They probably spent the one or two million of their budget buying off movie critics. Whoever said that Paranormal Activity was the scariest movie of the last ten years should be burned at the stake. Those gentle souls disturbed and frightened by Paranormal Activity should also avoid thrillers such as, Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Ducktales the Movie.