There is an old saying that perception is reality. Or is it that reality is perception? I suppose it doesn't matter because the idea is the same either way. It is a powerful concept that shapes the way we experience the world around us. If it feels real, then it might as well be.
The movie “Paranormal Activity” works with this premise and does a masterful job of giving the viewer the perception of reality. Not often does it happen where you watch a movie, knowing from the get go that it is not by any means real, but can't help but think that it very well could happen. “Paranormal Activity” benefits from feeling at several points during the movie.
In case you didn't know, “Paranormal Activity” is a low budget movie which follows a twenty something couple who are documenting and dealing with a poltergeist like entity that is menacing them in their home. This couple consists of Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat), who have been dating for several years and have recently moved in together. Katie is a graduate student while Micah has some boring day job, but clearly aspires to be a film maker. We learn this early on because it is his obsession to film their current predicament that brings us the footage we are now viewing.
As the story tells us, Katie has been plagued by some form of spirit since she was a child. It has followed her around. This is something that Micah is intrigued by and wants to capture on film. He sets up his camera in their bedroom at night and follows around Katie during the day. We also get a little exposition as they even consult a psychic for advice. Shit is going down and they want to be on top of it.
As I stated earlier, there is a feeling of realism to the movie. It starts with our main characters. They just look like average people you might meet anywhere. Katie Featherston plays her role as if her privacy is really being invaded by a video camera and as if there is an invisible for stalking and terrorizing her. Micah Sloat plays off his character a genuine opportunist.
It goes without saying that strange things start happening in the house. Things move and noises are heard. It is what is to be expected from a movie about a haunting. However, the difference with “Paranormal Activity” is that it doesn't come off as anything from a movie. What you do see is not an over animated special effect. It looks like something that you might witness with your own eyes. However, it is often what you don't see that is the real scary stuff. It creates some great suspense and a general feeling of anxiety because you don't know what it is and where it is coming from. There's real darkness in this movie, just as if you really were walking through your house at 2 o'clock in the morning with no lights on. There's a sound but no visible explanation for what made it. In the case of “Paranormal Activity”, less is more.
The movie doesn't have an expansive plot or back story, but it doesn't take from the experience. In fact, it isn't even necessary. The point of “Paranormal Activity” is to experience the phenomena right along with the characters. The movie is most effective when you let yourself become immersed in the visual and audio environment. Since the movie is filmed with a hand held camera, we are either in the shoes of the characters themselves, or right alongside them as the action takes place. Now don't get me wrong about the actual story being presented. There is a narrative and several details that are important to take in. If you pay attention, the climactic ending is that much more effective.
Bottom line is that many parts of the movie feel real. It is this feeling that very few films can evoke. It starts right from the beginning when the caption reads as if the footage was gathered after the events that you see unfold. It ends with no credits. It is not so much a movies as it is a compilation of events edited together to hopefully make you feel uneasy about turning off your lights before you go to bed. I'll be honest, it sure made me a little jumpy. I even slept with the lights on last night. Let's not tell anyone about that, though.