Micah (Micah Sloat) doesn’t believe a demon is in his house. His girlfriend Katie (Katie Featherston) believes a spook, specter, or ghost has been following her since childhood.
Micah is in constant doubt, yet still feels the need to go out and get an Ouija board to “cast out” the demon… or something. He is not just doing it for a joke either. Despite his reservations, he legitimately believes it will work, despite having no faith in the source of the problem.
Of course, it doesn’t, because despite being told to turn off the camera and a glaring increase in, well, “paranormal activity” when they leave it on, the couple refuses. If you’re rooting for the demon, you’re not the only one.
Paranormal Activity tries to build tension, but in terms of actual scares, this is a joke. Making a loud thumping sound isn’t terrifying; it makes you jump. If you were outside in the real world and suddenly you heard a loud “boom,” it is instinctive to be jolted. You can get the same effect on the internet for free. This cheap little movie uses that corny scare tactic because it has nothing else.
Using admittedly clever shadows and various tricks to pull the cover off the bed are familiar and uninteresting. Apparently, this demon is fond of horror film clichés as well. This is all mundane territory, the only difference being the use of a handheld camera in a confined setting to tell the story, the very thing that is its undoing.
Micah instinctively grabs the camera when Katie screams at a spider in the bathroom, follows the unseen “thing” downstairs, tracks it after leaving powder on the floor, but when he most needs it, he leaves the camera on the stand so the audience is cheated. Why? Because off-screen, director Oren Peli doesn’t want you to see what it happening, not because the characters are making decisions their development has told us they normally would.
Paranormal Activity’s biggest charade is the viral marketing campaign that pushed this tripe into the mainstream, luring people in under false pretenses that this was based on some kind of a true story. Maybe some of these people legitimately thought this was actual footage based on false advertising? Hopefully that doesn’t work for the sequel.
Shot using the Sony HDR-FX1, there is little purpose for Paranormal Activity to be on Blu-ray, one of the rare times you’ll ever hear that. This looks like a YouTube video blown up to your big screen or projector. The question then does any enhanced clarity take away from the homegrown feel? Not at all. Are any new artifacts caused by the Blu-ray? Not apparently.
Undoubtedly, Paramount’s AVC is true to the source. It is impossible to detect whether the extensive banding is a fault of the original master or the encode, but given how inferior it looks, it is hard to believe a high bitrate AVC/MPEG-4 effort could be the problem.
Whites bloom extensively in any shot during the day, and during a conversation with the psychic early in the film, faces are completely obscured by the bright lighting. Notable vertical lines appear during certain scenes, a weird artifact, but of course adding to that “natural home video” look. Everything appears soft, and black levels barely even register. Nothing is going to make this appear clean regardless of the format.
Likewise, the same goes for a DTS-HD mix, which has memorable bass and little else. One of the considerable “scares” uses a sadistically loud thump to wake up anyone who had fallen asleep with the cast, and without a sub, the effect would be lost.
The same goes for when the demon is near. His presence produces a subtle rumble in the low-end that is nice for atmosphere. The surround channels are dead, and dialogue is naturally recorded. Not only can it be difficult to hear, it is hollow and flat. This is of course to sell the illusion that this is real, but when you need subtitles to grasp some of the words, that illusion is shattered.
With a sequel planned, Paramount has likely decided to double dip fans of this schlock, meaning they didn’t have to spend any money on this release. The menu is literally static text on a black background. An alternate ending does not change much, leading to the same results, and is the only extra on the disc besides a trailer.