Thursday, October 22, 2009

Paranormal Activity

I had the day off today, so on a whim I decided to go to the theater and see the new and hyped "Paranormal Activity" movie. Touted as the "scariest movie ever", I was more curious about the plot and its potential to be a great film without idiotic, expensive special effects. I make a point of avoiding Hollywood-made horror movies, because they leave so little to the imagination, and often overdo the blood and gore.

While I wouldn't call it "the scariest movie ever", it was still pretty scary, and lived up to my expectations. Here are some of my thoughts on the film. Bear in mind that the movie is a work of FICTION; there has been a lot of Internet hype suggesting that it's a real documentary, or based on a real story. It's not. However, from what I've heard from specialists who work on demonic cases, it's a reasonably accurate depiction of a demonic haunting (though I don't think the ending is particularly accurate).

The story centers around Micah and his girlfriend Katie, who live together in his house in San Diego. Micah is a day trader, and Katie is still at university, where she majors in English literature. The characters are played quite well; Katie is your typically sweet college girl, and rather naive. Micah is probably a fairly average guy himself, but he is also controlling, selfish and arrogant, three qualities that are trouble in this film. Katie will argue with him, but rarely has the will to stand up to him. We learn that Katie is plagued by some kind of weird activity, and has been since she was young (either 8 or 11 years old, I can't exactly remember). When she moves in with Micah, weird activity starts to occur, and he decides he is going to be an amateur ghostbuster and try to capture audio and video of the disturbances. He claims to be doing so to help her, but he's really doing it because he gets a charge out of seeing "cool" stuff on camera. He tells Katie to do things to provoke whatever it is (which she refuses to do), and he tries to provoke it himself. More than likely, he is afraid of what he doesn't understand, and tries to respond by bullying it or making light of it. But he makes things worse.

Katie asks a man who she refers to as a "psychic" to come in to give his opinion. This struck me as the most unbelievable part. First, the man is supposed to be a respected paranormal investigator, but he starts the whole thing by interviewing Katie, something a psychic would not do. They would get their impressions first, tell the client what they are, and then interview them for more info, not the other way around. This psychic identifies the entity as demonic, and says he's not qualified to deal with it, but gives her the name of a colleague who is a demonologist. Micah, who has spent the whole visit taunting and making fun of the psychic, tells her she should not call the demonologist, that he would figure out a solution. He suggests using a Ouija board, which the psychic flatly tells him is a bad idea, as he will be giving this thing an open door. Katie is dead set against the Ouija board, but Micah ends up bringing one in anyway. He doesn't actually use it, but its presence is enough to cause trouble. When the same psychic returns later, he won't even walk in the door, and tells her she will have to "wait" until the other expert comes back in a few days. Anyone called upon in an emergency situation who walks out like that without helping--especially someone who supposedly has a big network of paranormal investigators--well, it seems as incredulous as the idea of an EMT who won't help a dying person because they're not sure they properly remember a particular aspect of first aid. But I suppose the eventual lack of help is part of the story. I noticed that you could tell when something was about to happen by the sound--it sounded like a subway car coming, from the perspective of someone at the street level.

I don't want to give away any more of the film, especially the ending. As someone who is somewhat familiar with the subject of demonology and evocation, I found myself cringing at Micah's cretinous behavior. Clearly he doesn't believe in the phenomena, or thinks he can control it. If he had left well enough alone, and left it to the experts, all probably would have ended well. I can't help thinking of shows like Fear Factor and Extreme Paranormal, which basically dare people to try spirit communication or demonic rituals. I've already stated my opinion that most demonic activity is psychological in nature. That doesn't mean it can be controlled--it's actually harder to control. Just look at a simple example--the old "don't think of pink elephants" and you can't help but to think of pink elephants. It also doesn't mean that you're not dealing with something physical, or that can affect the physical. If you're not prepared for such things--and most people are not--then you're just asking for bad trouble. If you want to suspend disbelief and pretend this is a real case, Micah is really behaving evilly because his macho, arrogant behavior isn't just hurting him, it's destroying his girlfriend, who he professes to love. Of course, part of the whole thing may be the demon affecting his actions as well. It's hard to know.

In any case, I thought it was pretty well done for a low budget film, and I appreciated the fact that it was low on fancy special effects and left more to the imagination. That makes it much scarier to me--the scariest monsters are the unseen ones. The actors were very believable in their roles, and didn't overdo anything. There was a great buildup of suspense, especially when the camera was on the couple at night--you just knew something was going to happen, and you were never quite prepared for what. The ending was a bit shocking, though not entirely surprising, and not the least bit unjustified. If you like good horror flicks that are not gory, I highly recommend this one.

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