It's 3 a.m. Do you know where their budget is?

Paranormal Activity: Who needs production values anyway?

by Josh "ClydeUmney" Mauthe

I'm a sucker for horror movies, but I've been burned a lot before. Paranormal Activity has been almost unanimously praised on the Web, but can it live up to all the hype, or is this just a case of a "pretty good" film being elevated to "instant classic" status due to the scarcity of quality horror these days?

There is no way to write about Paranormal Activity without bringing up The Blair Witch Project (both are low-budget horror films which built a following via the web, both use the "found footage" idea as a framework, and both take a minimalist approach to horror), but it's to Paranormal Activity's credit that the comparison doesn't diminish how solid it is. Whereas The Blair Witch Project focused on our primal fear of nature and built a complex mythology, Paranormal Activity instead works on slowly deconstructing the safety we find in our own homes, making the bedroom -- our place of rest, our innermost sanctum -- a place of danger and terror.

I've read some people argue that Paranormal Activity doesn't really do anything you haven't seen in any classic haunted house tale, and it's true. The plot here is simple and lacks the intricate background of The Blair Witch Project. It's a classic horror movie plot that makes a lot of sense as you watch, but doesn't quite work when you analyze it later. But, as Roger Ebert always says, it's all in the telling. Paranormal Activity is perfectly paced, slowly building to more and more intensely horrifying scenes up until the climactic night. Here's the thing, though: much Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity takes a low-key approach to horror, eschewing cheap jump scares and flashy special effects. Instead, it creates dread and unease through something as simple as a character standing very still for a very long period of time.

If you're looking for a typical horror movie, you'll hate Paranormal Activity. If you're up for something that works on your mind and lets your imagination fill in the blanks, you'll be hard-pressed to find a creepier, more unnerving experience. See it early, before the backlash begins, and good luck in seeing it with the right crowd -- even at a midnight showing, I had the typical laughing douchebag who's too bad-ass for subtle scares, along with the bad parents who kept their 5-year-old up until midnight to see a horror movie. Regardless, I went home thoroughly creeped out, and it's been a long time since that happened.


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