Oren Peli’s low-budget horror phenomenon is compelling proof that the simplest ideas are often the most effective. In an period when cinematic suggestibility and horror exists mainly in a vacuum of splatter and gore, Peli’s film reverts back to the basic ‘things that go bump in the night’ scenario and is all the more refreshing and effective for it.
The story, which Peli would have viewers believe is true, concerns suburban San Diego couple Katie (Katie Featherson) and Micah (Micah Sloat) as they buy a camcorder to record the strange goings on taking place in their house at night. Their bravery is soon tested, however, as events become progressively more sinister.
Shot for just $15,000 over seven days, Peli’s film excels by virtue of its ‘reality’-style conceit and the fact that it competently fires your imagination. Comparisons with The Blair Witch Project, while inevitable, are accurate given the raw feel of both movies and the overwhelming success both have enjoyed - but in some senses, Peli’s film is a little more clever. By setting the horror within the confines of the home, he makes the scares more immediate and penetrating... even depriving viewers of the notion that hiding under the covers might help.
Crucially, though, he also injects plenty of humour into proceedings, courtesy of Micah’s foolhardy approach to combating the supernatural, thereby offsetting the tension with uneasy laughs. And with its short running time, the film doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Ultimately, however, the hype surrounding Paranormal Activity is disproportionate. But it is a film that demands an audience experience of shared hysteria. Peli lays down some impressive markers for his own future as a director as follow-up projects are now a certainty – and quite an appealing prospect.
General release from Wed 25 Nov.