Chris Rock made a joke about The Blair Witch Project that goes something like this – ‘they say The Blair Witch Project cost $50,000 to make. What I want to know is, what did they do with the other $49,000?’
I mention this joke because Paranormal Activity cost $15,000 to make, and also because it reminded me a little of The Blair Witch Project. Oh, there are superficial differences. Instead of three people arguing over a map, we have a couple arguing over a video camera and later a Ouija Board. But both movies are cheap, and nothing happens.
I don’t mean this in a bad way. Found footage flicks are a guilty pleasure of mine – I adore the goat vomit green lighting, the shaky camera work, the horrid acting, all of it. One of my favorite found footage movies stars a middle-aged guy with a habit of filming himself in his boxer shorts. He bought a haunted house at auction and can’t resell it at a profit because, well, it’s haunted. The director (who also starred) made the movie on his iPhone.
Paranormal Activity takes place inside a house. There are four different characters. Micah is an asshole who doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing. His girlfriend, Katie, has bad taste in men. Katie’s sister doesn’t appear much, the subtext being that she doesn’t much like Micah. The psychic character appears twice, and has one of the more memorable scenes in found-footage history, on par with The Ghost Detector in Archivo 253.
The plot: Micah buys a video camera to get to the bottom of the weird shit that’s been plaguing his girlfriend Katie for years. He films them when they’re sleeping, and doesn’t seem to realize or care that filming your, er, Nocturnal Activities is some Grade A Weird Shit. Katie calls in a Psychic, who tells them they need a Demonologist. Meanwhile, the stuff that happens at bedtime gets weirder and weirder and Micah grows ever more fascinated. I missed this on the first viewing of the movie, but it’s the camera that escalates the situation. Wittingly or unwittingly, Micah invites the entity in.
By the time Micah realizes he has no control over the situation it’s way too late and the damage is done. Perhaps I’m being harsh here, but I’m sure Micah was a dudebro in college, drinking beer bongs and picking up sorority chicks with his awesome pecs. Katie’s big sin is that she’s too passive and lets Micah browbeat her. Part of the reason for that might be because Katie’s an English major and Micah’s a day trader, which means she has no money and he owns the house. The power dynamics of their relationship are one of the more interesting things about this movie.
Overall, I thought this movie was okay. The effects are non-existent and the demonic stuff is uneven, but there are still a few jump scares. My main impression of Paranormal Activity is that I found Micah to be super annoying. If I might stand upon my soapbox for a moment, I believe that wannabe alpha dudes cause a lot of the problems we face in our world today. It’s Micah’s refusal to admit that he’s in over his head that dooms them both.