Paranormal Activity (2007)

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*. A budget of $15,000 doesn’t give you a lot of margin for error. You have to do the best you can with what you’ve got.
*. Take a little thing like staging. If you’re stuck shooting the whole movie in the same house (which was in fact writer-director Oren Peli’s home) you have to make the most out of that space.
*. So look at that fixed camera set-up in the bedroom. Pretty much everything scary in the movie is going to be framed in this shot so it has to look right. Dominating the left side of the screen, which is the side your eye is naturally drawn to in any visual composition, is the black void of the open door. And in fact beyond the darkness is further mystery, as the stairway drops off so even if there was any light we wouldn’t be able to see what was going on, or coming up from below.
*. Does it bother you that Katie and Micah never try shutting the door? For an immaterial being who “can go wherever it wants” and “do whatever it wants,” it seems to need a physical passage from A to B. And would it have made more sense to change sides in bed, for Katie to sleep furthest from the door? Sure. But I’ll give Peli some leeway.
*. The “found footage” form requires giving a director more latitude than this anyway. As always in such films it strains credulity that the protagonists are continuing to film the events long after such filming serves any real purpose.
*. I did find, however, that I wanted to draw the line on the suspension of my disbelief in a couple of places. For starters: why don’t Katie and Micah turn the lights on when they’re going around investigating at night? Wouldn’t that be the first thing anyone would do? I think that goes back to evolutionary psychology. When threatened, the first thing humans want to do is see the danger.
*. Even more problematic is Micah’s response to what’s going on. The story begins with Katie bringing in a (cowardly) psychic who tells them what he thinks is happening. Micah mocks him, but seems cool with talking to him. Then, when everything goes spectacularly to hell, he digs his heels in and absolutely forbids Katie to get in touch with the demonologist the psychic had recommended. Huh? How consistent is that? And aren’t they both awfully nonchalant about the stuff that’s happening? Wouldn’t the footsteps in the baby powder be good enough evidence that it would be wise to adopt tougher measures?
*. I had always assumed the name Micah was pronounced “My-cah” but here they say “Mee-cah.” Since the actors are using their own first names (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) I guess they should know. Though there are at least a couple of times late in the film when Katie clearly screams out “My-cah!”
*. The movie had a bunch of different endings. I don’t usually care for this. As I’ve said before, if you have two or three alternative endings it means you don’t really have an ending. That’s all the more so in the case of a film where everything is building up to the ending.
*. As I understand it, there was one ending (suggested by Steven Spielberg) for the theatrical release, another “original” or “festival” version (which ran before Paramount acquired the film), and a third “unrated” ending. Personally, I like the one where Katie cuts her throat. The festival ending has a neat kind of Night of the Living Dead kink in its tail. The Spielberg ending — surprise! — seems the dullest and most conventional. It did, however, allow the producers to extend the story, which was imperative.
*. Ah, to be able to sleep all night, not just undisturbed by demons but without ever feeling the need to go to the bathroom. Youth. It’s the little things you miss as you get older.
*. Micah’s “research” into the subject of possession consists of “reading” a picture book (it might almost be a colouring book) of demons and Googling stuff online. That’s what we’ve come to, folks.
*. Another indication of what we’ve come to: Despite the fact that they’re clearly fighting a demon, Micah doesn’t even consider any kind of divine prophylactic. After the final attack on her we see Katie mysteriously clutching a crucifix, but Micah quickly tosses it away and it’s never mentioned again (at least until Paranormal Activity 2). It seems the devil is still with us but God left the building a while ago. Even the exorcist they try and call is out of town and unavailable.
*. It’s a good little movie that builds nicely and doesn’t make any major mistakes. I can’t think of why anyone would want to watch it twice, but as a novelty flick it works. A novelty flick that took in nearly $200 million.
*. Katie is the sensitive, artistic, emotional type. Micah is a boy who likes toys. The gender message helped make it a hit as a date movie. The takeaways were clear. For guys: if your girlfriend is acting like a psycho bitch from hell, she may just be one (or possessed by one). For girls: if your boyfriend isn’t relating to you, is betraying your trust, is acting like a control freak when really he’s just a slacker who likes to talk big (a day trader in Micah’s case, naturally), then it may be time to unleash your inner weird woman and give him a blast from the pit.

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