Paranormal Activity

The Sleepless Nights Project


16 October 2009| No Comments on Paranormal Activity     by Sean Chavel


If you are an emotion junkie, like I am, you go to the movies hoping for something to trigger a body shuddering physiological response. If you enjoy being scared Paranormal Activity is an experience of such unbridled sensation that it nothing less than staggering. The fact however that it is labeled as a scary movie shouldn’t stop you from underestimating, and admiring, its brave and unwavering artistry. This testament of course comes from someone who doesn’t mind the shaky-cam as long as it is done well. If you take in consideration the techniques consisting of a time-coded clock that speeds ahead to crucial incidents, the use of the jump cut, and the modulation of sound design then you are aware that vérité shaky-cam style can be a meticulous art.

The branding of scary movie doesn’t do justice here because “Paranormal” is one of the most terrifying movies ever made. In this low-budget landmark (production cost $11,000), Micah and Katie, boyfriend and girlfriend, start filming and investigating the unknown spooks in their San Diego two-deck house. For some unknown reason I had tears in my eyes at one point that I cannot explain. I’m sure it was not cries of sorrows so can it be something else?

When it comes down to it the less you know about the movie going in the better. But what can be said is that Micah is one of those annoying guys that always has to have the video camera on and thinks, to diminishing rational judgment, that he can solve on his own the problems plaguing his house. I know there will be some viewers that will not want to watch simply because Micah is annoying. His girl is yelling at him to turn off the damn camera but he insists in recording everything (the camcorder is his new toy). But isn’t it plausible to say that there are individuals on this Earth that are such overreaching know-it-alls that think their way is always the best way?

You need Micah to have his video camera on all the time, otherwise there wouldn’t be a movie (you can tell that “Paranormal” owes something to “The Blair Witch Project,” but this is more anxiety-ridden). The character is so correctly pitched that Micah feels plausibly human, the kind you believe would have the obsessive-compulsive need to not only run the camcorder at all time, but the need and know-how to dictate everything. Even if it is beyond his understanding. With little sensitivity in his character he never considers that he may possibly be antagonizing the phenomena that is invading their sanctuary space by his obstinate actions.

In a way, Micah is as much an external conflict as… the rest of what is mysteriously happening in the movie. Micah keeps the camera turned on to document visual proof while also analyzing audio wave dials on playback which he reviews every morning. He reads specialist books on the paranormal. He surfs the internet and finds a similar incident that occurred back in the ’60’s. He verbalizes every new piece of information while Katie wants to know little, as less as possible. She stands back and lets herself be a self-prescribed victim, and as much as she disagrees with Micah, she is unwilling to help herself.

Who knows who made the film officially since there are no opening or closing technical credits, only ominous title cards (you can surf the internet if you want the truth). The movie is presented as found footage that has been restructured in the form of a video diary. The camera is mounted on a tripod at night to film, in wide-angle shots, of the two of them sleeping. The typography informs us that it is “Night #1” or “Night #3,” or “Night #17,” etc. What occurs after dark is by turns gripping, goose-bumping, nerve-rattling, and ultimately, such a powerhouse that is made me scream louder than I have in ten years at a movie.

“Paranormal Activity” may not be the most terrifying movie since “The Exorcist” but if it’s not than it is certainly within range of comparison. If you are one of those rare disaffected cases that doesn’t jump out of your seat for anything that isn’t Freddy Krueger, that you can at least acknowledge the ingenious sound design as an effective instrument to the art of filmmaking. But anything that provokes and elicits such a wide range of basic human responses – laughs, anxiousness, tears of fright, tears of nervousness, curiosity of the unknown, squeals of terror – certainly qualifies as art. In that respect, “Paranormal Activity” is a horror film masterpiece.

86 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “The Exorcist” (1973); “Poltergeist” (1982); “The Blair Witch Project” (1999); “What Lies Beneath” (2000).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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