Monday, 2 November 2009

Paranormal Activity

Supposedly found footage tweaked and streamlined into a feature isn't a new idea, Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project both presented documentary style assemblies of last transmissions. Those films though were about people journeying into a lawless wilderness to find terror, interlopers out of their depth messing with forces they misunderstand. Paranormal Activity instead anchors its scares in a notionally safe domestic environment. This haunted house is completely atypical. Architecturally it is spaciously modern, bordering on prefab, filled with big screen televisions and boasting an outdoor paddling pool. Rather than hobble any potential disquiet, this decision accentuates it. If you're not safe here, in a place entirely too new to boast a spooked past, where can you be safe?

Director / Screenwriter Oren Pali even goes one further, staging the majority of the disturbed action whilst the haunted couple sleep. How more helpless can a person possibly be? For the most part Paranormal Activity elegantly teases at this idea, the couple's CCTV set-up urging the apparition to act in increasingly outrageous ways. There's even a sub-thread that implies one half of the duo has a vested financial interest in the horror escalating, thus smoothing some of the mounting daftness. Paranormal Activity only really disappoints when it explicitly dips into referencing like-minded cinema, thankfully it's a short burst of disconnect quickly resolved. Several different endings exist for Paranormal Activity, the version currently playing with the theatrical release has origins in a series of notes suggested by Steven Spielberg when his company DreamWorks picked the film up for distribution. This conclusion plays conventional, bordering on cynical, especially with sequel rumours flying about. It implies a new horror-identity ripe for further adventures. Much more fitting is the hopeless sting that crowns Pali's 2007 DVD screener edit. That ending speaks to an incalculable mindset that makes games out of misery.

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