With box office figures supporting gorier and more visually terrifying pictures, fans of the classic suspense horror genre are presently left wanting. That being said, old time “Night of the Living Dead” junkies (myself included) continue to search for a director that will revive the art of the suspense-driven picture. “Paranormal Activity,” the recent incredibly low-budget exclusively art-house horror mockumentary directed by Oren Peli, video-game-designer-gone-filmmaker, is currently scaring up a storm with a remarkable weekend sweep of the box office, attempting to revitalize the cinematic thriller. Astonishingly, the final product feels something like Psycho — that is, if Hitchcock had ended the film before the shower scene.
In a glorious celebration of motion sickness that usurps Cloverfield’s throne, “Paranormal Activity” is shot entirely with a handheld camera — a self-proclaimed independent picture that dares to wield the forces of suspense and script, in lieu of special effects and big name actors. Disappointingly, the picture gradually builds anxiety, dragging along until the viewer realizes that the credits are rolling.
The film presents itself as “loosely based on a true story” and examines the mysterious late-night hauntings surrounding the residence of Southern Californians Katie Featherstone and her camera-wielding boyfriend, Micah. What unfolds during the following anticlimactic 86 minutes involves the couple’s attempt at capturing video footage of the demon creature in a manner that shamelessly mimics “The Blair Witch Project.” The film’s marriage to its genre is even questionable, considering the re-creation of its most exhilarating moments could be made possible with a bongo drum and a bottle of baby powder.
“Paranormal Activity” falls short primarily due to a lack of delivery. Peli deliberately lays such an elaborate foundation of anxiety that he runs out of time to build upon it, and the final scenes of the film — and the only attempts at actualizing suspense into terror — feel rushed, contrived and haphazard. By continuously alluding to what never arrives, and then scrambling to offer a catharsis that feels awkwardly helter-skelter, “Paranormal Activity” perhaps even comes up shorter than modern gore flicks like “Saw.”
All scathing criticism aside, the film — with a budget approximately one thirteen thousandth the size of “Transformers” — has succeeded in spreading through independent theatres across the country, and appears to be frightening audiences in search of a horrifying experience. However, the terror discussed in relation to “Paranormal Activity” is likely one of a self-reflexive seed, brought about by the viewer’s own demons, for the film fails to truly capture any of its own. While toting around the based-on-a-true-story label that never fails to gather audiences looking to procure evidence of otherworldly truths, Peli’s film inevitably succeeds only in recapturing the spirit of the boy who cried wolf: only this time with no beast ever in sight.