The most unsuspected success of the year in America opens in Sweden on November 13 (Friday the 13th!). PARANORMAL ACTIVITY’S budget was $11,000, which of course is nothing. After a month it had grossed $61,580,588 in the USA only. How come? Where did this movie come from? Why was this film singled out among hundreds of low-low-budget horror movies to become an overnight sensation? And – is it any good?
Let me start three years ago. 2006. I was reading my good friend, British genre movie journalist MJ Simpson’s review of a small, low-low-budget American horror movie called IN MEMORIUM and MJ:s interview with its director, Amanda Gusack. The movie is apparently extremely scary. I wanted of course to see it, so I emailed Gusack and asked for a screener for review purposes. Unfortunately she couldn’t send me one, I don’t remember why.
IN MEMORIUM played a string of festivals to rave reviews, but I still haven’t seen it. It’s 2009 and Gusack’s film has yet to be released, for some reason it never found distribution. Here comes PARANORMAL ACTIVITY by somebody called Oren Peli, and suddenly, critics are talking about IN MEMORIUM again. Why? Well, it seems like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is a blatant rip-off of IN MEMORIUM; it’s more or less the same movie, albeit less scary.
In Peli’s movie, Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat play, ahem, Katie and Micah (shades of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT* where the actors kept their real names). Katie claims she’s been haunted by a ghost since she was a little girl and that the ghost has followed the couple to their new suburban home. Micah buys a video camera to document eventual paranormal activities while they’re asleep (kind of like the main character in Johannes Pinter’s Swedish horror movie SLEEPWALKER). Guess what! There is somebody there! Every night, an invisible ghost stomps into their bedroom and does something naughty, like pulling the bed sheets or slamming the door. Towards the ens of the movie, the ghost gets a little more threatening and violent.
To be honest: I found PARANORMAL ACTIVITY pretty damned boring. The whole movie is shot with the camera Micah buys, and I’m very tired of pseudo documentaries filmed with a shaky-cam. I liked [REC] but most of them are just irritating, from BLAIR WITCH to CLOVERFIELD. I also found Katie and Micah rather annoying, especially Katie when she’s panicking and screaming, which happens a lot. I felt like standing up and yell “Shut the hell up, biatch!”.
Okay, but what about the ghost? Are those scenes scary? No. Okay, I liked one scene where Katie is dragged out of her bed by her leg, but that’s it. On the other hand, a couple of my colleagues who attended the press screening found the scenes with the ghost very, very creepy and scary. Yes, I know, I’m jaded, I’ve seen several thousand horror movies, it’s really hard to scare me. But I do find it hard to believe PARANORMAL ACTIVITY will scare the audience. It would rather put people to sleep.
So, how come it’s made so much money in America? Don’t ask me. I’m just a horror movie fan and a film critic. And I thought this movie kind of sucked farts out of dead polecats.
*THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was also a rip-off; it had stolen its concept from Ruggero Deodato’s Italian horror classic CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. And yes, I absolutely hated BLAIR WITCH.