Paranormal Activity (2009)

Director:  Oren Peli
Katie FeatherstonMicah SloatMark Fredrichs

Plot:  After moving into a suburban home, a couple becomes increasingly disturbed by a nightly demonic presence.

Genre:  Horror / Thriller
Awards:  -
Runtime:  86min
Rating:  NC16 for language. 


Ten years after the release of The Blair Witch Project (1999), its influence still resonates among the younger generation of filmmakers. Credited as one of the few films to popularize the contemporary docu-realist movement, The Blair Witch Project changed how we look at cinema by showing that independent (and amateurish) filmmaking can succeed through clever marketing. Paranormal Activity is this decade’s Blair Witch. Many comparisons can be drawn – the most striking of which is its style of ‘documentation’. 

Using a hand-held video recorder, director Oren Peli attempts to create his version of the cult hit. “What happens when you sleep?” says the film’s tagline. Peli wants you to find out as you view the footage that is Paranormal Activity (there are no opening titles or end credits), and witness for yourself the horrible things that besiege a couple in the confines of their house in the wee hours. 

The film is obviously not a raw footage as Peli would have led any fool to believe; even though it is ‘raw’ in the sense that there is a lack of the composed framing of scenes, it surprisingly features polished scene-to-scene transition and edits. 

While the smooth transitions somewhat provides temporary relief in a highly disorientating film, Peli’s over-reliance on it is the film’s most glaring drawback. Day-to-night-to-day transitions appear too frequently, affecting the development of effective tension. 

For Paranormal Activity to be truly scary, Peli should have devoted the last thirty minutes of the film to the recording of the happenings in a single night so as to have a sustained sequence of horror and tension (instead of breaking it up into several nights which weakens the suspense quotient). 

For most parts, the suspense occurs in the bedroom while the couple is sleeping. A video camera records any supernatural nocturnal activity in the room (they do ‘appear’ in many forms and in increasingly bizarre fashion). Admittedly, there are some moments which are disturbing and hair-raising but they are fleeting moments, they come and go with a snap of the finger. 

Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) made many wary about taking a shower; Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) made millions think twice before dipping their big toe into the sea. Paranormal Activity, on the other hand, never comes close to the greatness of these two films. Does Peli’s film make me afraid of going to bed at night? Not at all. And for that it fails.

GRADE: F (4.5/10 or 2 stars)

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