Katie sleepwalking in Paranormal Activity. credit: Paramount Pictures

Movie Review: Paranormal Activity (2007) ****

Paranormal Activity is a simple movie taking place in a Los Angeles house, where a het couple has moved after their last place burned down. They think the woman, Katie, is haunted. The man, Micah, buys a camera to document it, and his footage is the movie we see.

This is another fun found-footage horror film that wouldn’t exist without The Blair Witch Project. This one was fairly seismic on its own scale. The production company did their best to make Paranormal Activity look ambiguously real-ish in a similar way. Traditional credits are eschewed for thanking the families of the main characters, for instance. The whole thing is shot like it’s really some douchebag boyfriend intruding on his traumatized girlfriend’s progressive demon possession.

I was the exact right age for this when it came out — nineteen years old and quite similar in appearance to Katie — but I thought this was wildly boring interspersed with semi-boring (but spooky) tension. I had no interest in the daytime scenes, and I totally missed the delight of the escalation. Rewatching this now, I’m not sure how I felt that way! I’d say I was sleeping through it, but I remember every scene.

It’s actually a very competently executed movie, all things considered. The best way to watch this — like many horror movies — is in a rowdy group with Strong Opinions. That means shouting when you see the demon has broken the picture glass directly over Micah’s face, throwing things at Micah when he’s put himself in-frame, and shrieking with delight when the bed covers move. You need to feed off one another’s energy. Paranormal Activity understands that horror is a group watch activity, and it feeds into it. The quiet that descends once they arrive at a new night, encouraging you to look closely for details like shadows, is just this side of masterful low-budget film making.

Plus, watching it now feels like a time capsule to 2006. I’m sure Katie and I both were dressed entirely by Old Navy. Every one of my richer friends’ houses looks like this McMansion they movie into. It’s Western American whiteness in a nutshell. I think even the demons are pretty much to be expected — whomst among us isn’t a Catholic being chased by demons, really?

The Real Horror Is Heterosexuality, in many ways. However unsafe Katie feels being stalked by a demon that set fire to her last home — and has been following her since childhood — she also feels unsafe with Micah, who doesn’t respect her. He doesn’t listen to anything he says. He tries to use the camera to film her in intimate times. Micah’s disrespect is, in many ways, necessary to the conceit of the film; if he were not so obsessed with his camera, we would not have all this footage.

This is one of many movies where I find myself asking whether men actually like women, especially the ones they’re in relationships with. Most interactions between them are overtly hostile before the demon even ramps up its activity. The thing is, it feels authentic. I have known so many couples like Micah and Katie. It’s not a challenge to suspend disbelief.

And if there’s anything to make you feel less secure when you’re being hunted by a demon, it’s knowing that nothing you say or do will change the behavior of your companion. That he will absolutely provoke the demon with a Ouija board. He will act like his masculinity is any defense and dismiss every concern. He won’t even be convinced it’s *actually* paranormal until the last fifteen minutes. It’s got that slippery, out-of-control feeling of a nightmare.

The ending is perfect for the setup. Wholesome, one might say!

It’s not really a great movie, but it’s not trying to be. Paranormal Activity is schlocky fun. It’s good for a sleepover or Halloween watch party. Remember to bring the Ouija board! Just don’t leave it unsupervised.

(image credit: Paramount Pictures)

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