Monday, October 19, 2009

Paranormal Activity: The short, spoilerless version

It's not "the scariest movie EVER." Heck, it's not even the scariest movie I've ever seen, and I'm not a huge fan of the genre.

"Paranormal Activity" is a movie built around a common experience, and one of the most ancient themes in all scary stories: things that go bump in the night. Now, in real life, things that go bump in the night almost always have obvious and mundane explanations. But what if something else is going on? What if something else were responsible for the little noises that you hear when you're trying to sleep?

I don't think I was in this movie's target audience. The two main characters appeared to be in their early twenties, and I think people within plus or minus five years of the characters' ages were probably best able to relate to them, and put themselves in their situation. Also, they may have shared the lack of scary-movie experience demonstrated by the characters, who clearly never saw "The Exorcist", "The Amityville Horror", or "Poltergeist" - or else they wouldn't have done some of the things they did.

Big points to this movie for its subtlety and understatement. In the era of microscopically short attention spans, this is a movie where the audience will sit there and wait for something to happen.* Half of the creepiness comes from trying to imagine what will happen next. It's a refreshing change of pace from the sadistic gorefests and special-effects extravaganzas that have come to dominate horror and thriller films. Perhaps "Paranormal Activity" will serve as a gateway to movies like "The Exorcist" and "The Omen" which, by today's standards, are tame and sedate - but which operate on the same psychological level as this film, and far more effectively.

In the end I found this movie more giggle-inducing than frightening, but some of the people in the theater around me were clearly more strongly affected. And I'm sure more than a few of them have had a hard time going to sleep on subsequent nights. (Even I wish I hadn't stayed up so late last night reading up on this movie - and then thinking about some of the more disturbing scenes.)

If you're looking for a good, fun scare, go to your local haunted house, forest, or hayride, especially if they support local charitable organizations. But if you're looking for a creepy shared experience, you could do worse than this movie.

*An argument has been made recently that Twitter and Facebook have had a positive effect on attention spans, since people are now getting the stories of their friends' lives in bite-sized increments, and must connect everything together over a long stretch of time into a coherent whole.

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