The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Low-Budget Mockumentary Confronts 'Paranormal Activity'

3 min read


With the Halloween season so close, Orin Peli probably made the best $11,000 investment possible. However, if nothing else, “Paranormal Activity” proves that a truly scary horror film must be more expensive than $11,000.

“Paranormal” is a mockumentary horror film written and directed by Peli. The picture was first introduced at the Screamfest Film Festival in the United States on Oct. 14, 2007 and has since received wide acclaim since hitting theatres nationwide Oct. 16, 2009.
Before reviewing the film itself, I must honor the fact that Peli made remarkable use of his resources. Beyond the limitations of a shoe-string budget, the film was made with no cinematographer, no locations to film (other than a house), and the filming had to be finished in seven days. Honestly, the feat itself is the most paranormal part of the film.

This leads to the conclusion that “Paranormal Activity” is perhaps one of the most dormant horror films released on a national platform. The movie documents a prosaic haunted house plot, starring Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston as an “engaged to be engaged” couple who want to legitimize their recent fears. The story begins with no introduction, and proceeds with no narrative (except for Micah’s camera work).

The audience becomes the camera as Micah, the sarcastic, technology-obsessed, day-trading boyfriend, fearlessly video-tapes whatever he can to unmask the demon in their suburban corner of San Diego, Calif. Most of the film is invested in Katie Featherston, the lovably-terrified girlfriend who seems to have a demon very interested in her.

The film felt like “The Blair Witch Project” but with more personality. As the camera captured the couple throughout their day to day actions, the film offered a remarkably realistic portrayal of a couple running for their lives.

Most of the action takes place in the bedroom, where Micah mounts a camera to keep watch. Analogous to the movie’s problem, the couple never runs out of the house. Perhaps due to the low budget, “Paranormal Activity” does not go the distance with either supernatural happenings or terror.

The movie offers a lot of paranormal suspense, but does not justify with enough activity. Expect of a lot of “Did you hear that?” noises and “What was that?” movements to no avail until the very end. The horror of the film relies on the audience believing in the couples’ reactions; however, the couple never leaves the house and hardly makes an effort to seek help. They haphazardly wait days for a “demonologist” to arrive, while the demon makes them more and more aware of his anger.

A major success of the film relies on the character development. Both Micah and Katie were fantastic portrayals of suburban people being terrified by a demon. Katie’s reactions and screams were terrifically believable, and, contrasted with Micah’s disbelief  and “This is my house and nobody will f*** with my girlfriend” attitude, their relationship created an enjoyably dynamic.

Paying $7.50 for a matinee ticket, I was a little put off by the sharp ending, which has been changed due to heavy editing for the national release. If you are interested in viewing the alternate ending (A LOT better then the theatrical), finding it online is possible but tricky due to Paramount Pictures Corporation’s mission to keep it to themselves. I will not give either away, because waiting for the ending will keep you watching where the horror will not. In these trying economic times, I would wait to rent this movie, or just borrow it from a friend.