PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (Oren Peli, 2007)
Like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, the low budget chiller PARANORMAL ACTIVITY assembles raw footage found in the aftermath of an encounter with something beyond our understanding of the natural world. Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat play a couple who observe weird occurrences and sounds in their home and are becoming more spooked by them. In keeping with the intent of passing this off as real, the actor's first names share their first names with the characters.
Katie has experienced these disturbances since childhood and feels they are becoming more persistent. In the hope of finding an explanation, Micah purchases video equipment to record nearly everything that happens when they are awake and asleep. What the tapes reveal does not comfort them.
The makers of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY understand that the most frightening things are what we imagine but can't see. Whether it's the creaks and cracks of a home settling at the end of the day or the hiss of air that sounds like vague voices coming from the vents, things that go bump in the night can scare even the most rational person, especially one who's half-asleep.
Writer-director Oren Peli uses PARANORMAL ACTIVITY'S limitations of a single location and low budget to his supreme advantage. The camera never leaves the property on which the couple's home sits, so no relief is ever provided. The mental wear and tear of living in a stressful place and in an increasingly tense relationship is played beautifully by the actors and is thus transferred to the viewers.
Peli stokes audience suggestibility and encourages scanning the video noise for the tiniest sign of something supernatural at play. With agonizing anticipation of something bad happening, he teases for long stretches and then delivers fleeting but startling glimpses or sounds of something untoward going on.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY isn't an actor's film per se, but it wouldn't be as eerily effective without Featherston and Sloat's believable, lived in performances. Since we observe everything through their eyes, the film becomes scarier the more their relationship frays.