10 years ago a little film called The Blair Witch Project took the country by storm, taking in nearly $150 million at the domestic box office. The film was shot on a miniscule $22,000 production budget and made the Guinness Book of World Records for Top Box Office Budget Ratio for its $240.5 worldwide gross. 10 years later, we have a brand new and much-more improved Blair Witch Project with Paranormal Activity, one of the most chillingly effective horror films in recent memory.
The comparisons will continue to be made between The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity likely for the rest of the year as it should (BETTER!) get a wide release in the coming weeks, after a highly successful limited run. Like Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity had a tiny budget of just $11,000 and the main characters (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) go by their real first names in the film. They also play the film up in a similar manner, making you think this actually happened to these people. Before the film started, there was a notice which Paramount Pictures “thanked” the families of Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat. Yeah. Still, it works because these unknown actors (not for long) deliver vitally authentic performances that draw you into their spooky plight, which is the biggest difference of the film when compared to Blair Witch.
Instead of following around three dorks in a Maryland forest, we follow the home trauma of Featherston and Sloat as they try to figure out the mysterious things that have been happening to them. See, Katie has been “haunted” for most of her life, since she was about 8 years old and it seems to follow her everywhere she goes. Recently, when Katie and Micah move in together, the hauntings start to occur yet again and the day-trader/wannabe ghost hunter Micah decides to buy a high-quality movie camera and document what really happens in their room when they’re asleep, when most of the spooky sh*t goes down. The result is perhaps one of the most effectively scary horror films of all time and, better yet, one that even might translate better for home viewing as well. Remember when you went to see The Blair Witch Project in the theaters and were really spooked out and you couldn’t wait to own it on DVD or VHS? Then remember how utterly disappointing that home viewing was? Yeah, well while this theater certainly demands at least one viewing in the theater, I think it will still retain a lot of its impact on DVD or Blu-ray. For one, there have been incredible advances in home theater technology in the past decade, but the main reason is that since this takes place totally in one home throughout the entire movie, I imagine it would be even creepier watching it in your own home on a fat home theater system with all the lights off. I’m not saying you shouldn’t see this in the theater, by any means. I’m just saying that once you see it in the theater and then see it months later on DVD/BD, I just think this film is a much better fit for home viewing, compared to Blair Witch.
People will likely think this is a true tale, aside from the brief notice at the start of the film, but also from the wonderful performances from Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat. They are both very effective and convincing as an on-screen couple, which is also aided by a wonderful script by writer-director Oren Peli (who also produced and edited the film). They have great chemistry and accurately portray the innate intricacies of being a couple incredibly well. They fight over stupid stuff and Micah is constantly trying to get Katie to use the camera for more recreational bedtime activities… The script is also quite brilliant because it gives us a nice ratio of just normal everyday interactions between Katie and Micah, which makes us care about this couple and root for them when all this crazy sh*t goes down… and trust me, it’s plenty crazy.
Writer-director Oren Peli is probably the real star of the show, though, as he has crafted one of the most incredibly effective horror films in at least the past decade. It’s all atmospheric scares too, with probably the least amount of gore I’ve seen in a horror film and a slick use of the microscopic budget to create some incredible scares. While it isn’t campy at all, Peli also injects a lot more humor than I expected, shown throughout the normal-day pieces of the film, but, once the lights go out in the bedroom, it’s all about the scares and they’re done magnificently well. Peli is also smart enough to know that horror audiences know the genre and know when they are expected to be scared… and Peli’s film will manage to scare the sh*t out of the most savvy of horror fans that could likely see every scare coming in a lesser horror film. Peli also has serious skills as an editor, with a perfect mix of these daytime/every-day moments and the nighttime scares and it’s rather amazing that this, one of the best horror films I’ve seen in years, was Peli’s directorial debut, and that he accomplished so much on such a shoestring budget.
Paranormal Activity is the real f*cking deal, folks. You get a little bit of every thing here, from laughs, cute chicks and some of the scariest material you’ve likely ever seen on film. The marketing campaign for the film tells you not to see this film alone, and you shouldn’t because you should call every friend you have and take them to the theater with you, because it’s one hell of a horror ride that will surely sweep the nation once it gets a national release.