Sitting down to watch a critically-acclaimed horror film is always a nervy experience. Too often, my expectations are set too high, and whilst I try to keep them in check, I don’t succeed. Paranormal Activity is a film that seemingly everybody raves about, yet I fail to see what the big deal is.
For years, Katie (Katie Featherstone) has been intermittently followed by some kind of entity. When it returns after she moves in with her boyfriend Micah (Micah Sloat), the pair decide to take action. However, following the purchase of a video camera and a visit from a ghost whisperer, both of which appear to cause some offence to the spirit, the couple begin to experience many more disturbances, which are far more severe than what came before.
The sound of silence
The first thing I really picked up on with Paranormal Activity was how well it utilised the lack of sound. It just let the atmosphere do the work. There was no score, just silence and the occasional creaky floorboard, or low-level hum of electronics – noises that are commonplace in any house. The difference here, however, was that these noises became almost like a supporting role. They influenced how our characters behaved, and had the power to heighten the tension and move the story along. In essence, this was more than just sound because it stood out so much against the comparative silence. It served to really draw the viewer in, and was one particular aspect that massively impressed me.
As well as this, there was one other thing that leapt out at me. By now I think everyone knows that Paranormal Activity is a found-footage film, and in terms of the way it makes use of this style of film-making, it’s definitely one of the better ones. Whilst the sound drew me in, it was easy to feel at one with the film because of its home video vibe. Whenever something happened, you were right in amongst the action. Add to this the central characters everything revolved around, and there was a fair bit of pulling power. Katie and Micah seemed like interesting people who you’d want to spend time with at the start of the film. I liked them as a couple, although unfortunately both characters take a turn for the worse as the film unfolds, and by the time the end came around I was past caring about them.
Out with a fizzle, not with a bang
However, it might not have been solely the characters that were wearing thin on me by the film’s end. My biggest criticism of Paranormal Activity is that it never really amounted to anything. I was patient at the start, and was actually quite fond of the subtleties. It was like we were being teased by the film, in an attempt to lure you in even further. But it never launched that deadly strike that I was counting on. For all of the groundwork the film put in early on, I was expecting a far bigger bite. It just felt like it had built itself up for that one moment right at the end, and whilst this was effective in bringing the scares home all by itself, it wasn’t enough of a pay-off for my liking.
Paranormal Activity did not live up to the hype
It’s fair to say I’m feeling fairly short-changed. For me, Paranormal Activity was just another instance of a film that had so many good things going for it, but didn’t quite know how to make the absolute best of them. It handled the found-footage part amazingly well, and paid close attention to the smaller details, making sure they were put to best use. But it teased too much for too long, and in the end, couldn’t deliver on all that it had pitched.