I will never claim to know what studios are thinking. I’m pretty sure nobody could make that claim. But I’m going to guess that, after Lionsgate found a hit with Saw, every studio was scrambling for a low-budget horror movie they could churn out year after year. Enter Paranormal Activity, a movie that’s taken off as a series, and yet the original basically wears its low budget on its sleeve.
Katie (Katie Featherson) and Micah (Micah Sloat) are a couple that have moved into a new house, and the fact that Katie’s being stalked by a paranormal entity since she was a kid has just come to light. Naturally, they decide to record their every action as they attempt to figure out what’s haunting them and how to stop it.
I feel that it’s impossible to discuss the movie without starting with the simple fact that it was made on $15,000 and filmed in the director’s house. You know from start to finish that you’re watching a low-budget movie. But it’s also a movie that knew its budget. It didn’t attempt to do things it couldn’t do. There’s nobody dressed in a costume from the Party City as the monster. It uses what it had to produce the creepiness. Shadows moving past the door. A potted plant having its leaves ruffled. There’s the feeling that something’s there, and you feel like you always have to pay attention to catch anything they might’ve done. It’s what the movie does best, really. It leaves you to the fears of what happens when you’re not around. Micah leaves the camera running as he sleeps, and you can’t help but get the feeling that everything would’ve been better if they hadn’t started recording in the first place.
And the movie makes sure you know this, as the hauntings turn into a definite disconnect between Micah and Katie. This, the movie doesn’t handle nearly as well. I imagine the main problem is that it just never feels like it escalates. Katie gets irritated with Micah filming everything extremely early on, and Micah just acts like an idiot the entire time. They’re not deep, developed characters (probably not helped by the fact the movie didn’t actually have a script), and it shows. The escalation unfortunately leaks over into the scares. I kept waiting for the movie to show me something bigger or scarier going on. Instead, when it got to the final night, I was left with a feeling of disappointment. I had been hoping for the next level, and instead it just gave me the end.
Overall, I enjoyed the movie enough. It was certainly watchable and entertaining. Digging into it at all just causes it to fall apart entirely, but if you watch it as a light horror movie, it’s fully enjoyable. It wasn’t quite my cup of tea enough for me to want to run to the theater and see the third one, but I can understand how they franchised it.