"They must have paid those people in the commercial to scream like that." - A fellow audience member as we left the theater.
If I'd seen Paranormal Activity at one of the midnight screenings a while back, I probably would have considered it a decent enough horror flick, and thought, "Good for the filmmakers. It'll be nice to see what they do with a budget of more than $10."
But unfortunately, I saw it this past weekend after a solid month of hype that would have one believe that Paranormal Activity is not only the scariest movie ever made, but maybe better than Jesus. Even sites that should know better are shamelessly gushing over it. It's similar to my experience with Zombieland, but about a hundred times worse, which made me about a hundred times more pissed off about how much this film doesn't live up to the hype.
When I was a kid, I saw this TV movie that was also about a demonic force living in a house. In one scene, a guy is sitting in his living room when he turns around, and sees the demon, in the form of a little girl, walking down the stairs. Suddenly, the girl turns into this obese woman with some really grotesque make-up, tosses the guy around a bit, and then it fucking rapes him.
Compare that to Paranormal Activity: "Oh, no! The demon stole our sheets!" "It broke a picture frame!" "It dragged my girlfriend a few yards, and then let her go!" I kept waiting for the scares to come, and they didn't. Sure, there were plenty of moments where you get startled. But big deal. Any hack director can do that. Why do you think so many bad horror films have a scene where a cat jumps out at someone? At no point in this film did I feel even marginally scared.
To be fair, there are some genuinely tense moments. I can see why people who go into this movie wanting to be scared, are. When the lights suddenly turn on in another room, or when Micah discovers Katie out on the porch in a haze, or when the shadow passes by the door, it feels as though something really good and really terrifying is about to happen... But. It. Never. Does.
Lack of scares aside, here are my three biggest problems with the film:
1) The disclaimer at the beginning tells you right off the bat--heavily implies, anyway--that the characters are going to die. Well...okay. But it's hard to get emotionally invested in them, knowing this.
The gimmick worked in The Blair Witch Project, because that movie was all about slowly building a sense of dread as the characters came to realize what the audience already knew: That they were doomed. As far as other first-person camera horror films go, Cloverfield also ran such a disclaimer, and I'm pretty sure Quarantine did as well. Look, Hollywood, we know these films aren't actually real footage that you acquired, and decided to put up on the big screen. You don't need to let us know how they supposedly came to be in your possession.
2) Despite numerous teases, we find out nothing about the demon. It would have been nice to have gotten a little information about why all this was going on. And what was up with that photo in the attic? Presumably, the demon put it there. Was it carrying it around in its pocket this whole time since Katie's house burned down? Do demons have pockets?
3) Also like The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity seems to come to this point where the filmmakers suddenly realize that after all the build-up, they need to deliver an ending, and the film basically just comes to an abrupt stop. And it sucks. Especially the awkward special effects employed. (Why would the demon bother bringing Micah all the way back upstairs to kill him?)
If I had to come up with one unqualified positive thing about the movie, I did like the psychic character, who was pretty much the inverse of every other psychic you see in horror films, as he was neither brave, nor especially helpful, and more or less left the main characters to fend for themselves. That was a nice touch.
Paranormal Activity isn't a bad movie, just an exceptionally average one that unfortunately, was blown way, way, way out of proportion by movie geeks and hipsters who are always looking to discover The Next Big Thing. You go into it with reasonable expectations, you'll be entertained. You go into it believing all this crap about it being one of the scariest movies ever, you're going to wonder when exactly Americans became such pussies.