Paranormal Activity.

Starring Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs and Ashley Palmer. Directed by Oren Peli.
Rated M (supernatural themes and coarse language). 85 mins.

Movies about haunted houses require a suspension of disbelief well above the norm. Even so — or maybe because of it — their success depends on how cleverly the film-maker goes about the task. Directed, written and edited by Oren Peli, who also co-produced, Paranormal Activity is quite a clever little horror flick.

Israeli-born Peli, a former video game designer, follows in the footsteps of The Blair Witch Project in that the film purports to be a documentary shot by the characters themselves. The footage all looks as if it were shot by the small camera that they wield, and the fiction is carried through to having no credits whatever, fore or aft, because that would make it look like a proper production, not a home movie.

Captions tell us that what we are watching took place over 21 nights in September/October 2006 entirely within a house in San Diego where dwelt Katie, a student, and Micah, her boyfriend, who works in the finance business (not that he ever seems to do any work). At the start, Micah is setting up a video camera, taping their chat as he puts up a tripod and gets ready to record. Katie insists that the house is inhabited by a ghost that walks at night, and sceptical Micah is hoping that visual observation while they sleep will disprove any paranormal activity.

Katie tells a professional psychic (Mark Friedrichs) that a ghostly presence has followed her wherever she has lived since she was eight. The psychic concludes that a demon is at work, as distinct from a ghost, which is a manifestation of a human spirit.

At first, the only evidence captured by the all-night camera shoots is small phenomena – the bedroom door moves slightly, a light switches on, some odd sounds are heard. But things start to really go bump in the night as the demonic doings escalate and proceed relentlessly to the shocking climax on Night #21.
Director Peli manages pretty well to tell his story as if it were being seen solely by the camera that either Micah or Katie carries around or which sits on the tripod when they go to bed. A couple of times there is a cut that destroys the illusion, but for the most part the idea is carried off well.  Of course, one could question why Micah and Katie always grab the camera before rushing to investigate the chilling noises that disturb their sleep (and the friend who saw it with me wondered how a student could afford a five-bedroom house, and why bedding in one of the guest rooms was changed over, even though no one was using it).  But if you are unwilling to surrender disbelief , what business do you have watching a film like this?

The actors are adept at improvising dialogue and the use of sound is particularly effective in creating the creepiness. Paranormal Activity delivers the goods in an original, arresting manner, all the more impressively when you consider that it cost a mere $15,000 when it was made two years ago, with shooting completed in a week.

Icon.  Out December 3

 Mr Jim Murphy is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.


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