Years ago, I remember going to my friend’s apartment. He’d just rented this really cool game and I just had to come over and play. It was the first Resident Evil game. We played for hours before the need for sleeps started to creep in around the edges of our eyes. I left his apartment and walked out onto the breezeway. It was eerily still. Occasionally, crisp autumn leaves would whisper across the ground and a chill would grip my shoulders. I looked around, halfway expecting to see something shambling out of the shadows or leaping through a window. So, like any strong, rational man in his twenty-somethings, I ran like a scared little girl to my car, locked the door and drove home. It seemed more like a reflexive reaction than anything thought out.
Ten years ago, the “Blair Witch Project” had the same effect on me. We’d caught the movie during the day and walked out of the theater at night. It was a mildly disconcerting feeling. We then found that we’d misplaced the car and a mild feeling of dread began nagging at the back of my mind. Fortunately, we soon found the car and were on our way home. Still, the seeds of horror planted by the “Blair Witch Project” had rooted nicely in our minds. Good horror is like that. It clings to you after the movie is finished and colors your reality.
It’s almost fitting that now, ten years later, another movie in that faux-documentary style is causing such a buzz among horror fans. “Paranormal Activity,” a two-year old film and the first film for director Oren Peli, is the tale of a young couple (played by newcomers Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) whose new home is plagued by the titular paranormal activity. Micah buys a camera to capture some of the events. Let the haunting begin.
“Paranormal Activity” borrows a lot from the “Blair Witch Project” playbook – the viral marketing, the midnight showings, and the reliance on word of mouth: it has worked very well for the movie. It’s also taken from the set-up – the almost Chinese Water Torture type approach to building up tension. There are no fancy effects, no buckets of blood, no genre cameos or existing series for it to hang its hat on. It’s the story of two people slowly unraveling in the face of something they do not understand and against which they are powerless.
In movies with bigger budgets and lower quality, I’m sure we’d be treated to a parade of CG monsters, artsy camera angles and bad acting. This movie doesn’t totally avoid some of the genre clichés (people doing really stupid things, not getting help when they have the chance, etc). However, it doesn’t change the fact that when the lights went down and Katie and Micah laid down for bed, there was a collective gasp and cringe in the auditorium as we waited to see what the night would bring for them.
Good horror does that. It sneaks into your brain through an open window in the back while you’re guarding the front door, and when you least expect it, it comes up behind you and taps you on the shoulder.
After the screening, at three in the morning, I was surfing the web, still surprisingly awake. While reading some tweets, I started hearing the indistinct whisper of a woman’s voice coming from the other side of my bedroom door. A chill spilled down my arm as I stared at the door, my heart pounding. That had to be something on my computer, I thought. I switched over to my browser and found some bizarre YouTube video playing in a background tab. I signed heavily and thought, “Damn good movie.” After that, I shut down the computer, turned off the light and went to bed.