Put a camera in a bedroom for three quarters of a homemade film and there's plenty of "extra-curricular activity" to keep viewers on edge. However, in the case of this low-budget mokumentary by Israeli-born newcomer, Oren Peli, the only activity we're supposed to see - and believe for that matter - is the paranormal sort. Katie Featherston and Micah Sloater, a twenty-something couple from San Dieog, conduct an investigation into the strange goings-on in their suburban style home. Micah is the film's trademark skeptic enjoying the humor of playing ghost-hunter, while Katie is the ever-cautious female lead, whose childhood home burned down after an encounter with an unknown spirit. Years later, she is hounded by a malevolent spector, which prompts Micah to gain evidence of the haunting on tape. The couple go so far as to consult a dubious psychic, but when Micah attempts to contact the spirit by using a ouija board, the haunting spirals to a terrifying, sinister peak.
Paranormal Activity thrives on the power of suggestion. Footfalls inthe dark, demonic voices on audio, and the occasional spontaneous door-slamming mimic the usual predecessors to the heart-stopping mainstream horror of a Hollywood blockbuster. On the other hand, the scenes that pit viewers with the tangible side of terror succeed only in stealing from the film's raw presentation of a genuine haunting. As a result, a midnight mad struggle down a hallway is immersed in hopeless cliche and likeable to comic relief.
Nevertheless, the chemistry between the characters is decidedly credible, though the lack of interaction with the world outside their home makes them less like the every-day individuals viewers are supposed to relate to. Regardless, Peli casts his lead roles in a rare and praiseworthy style. Many classic films of the haunted-house genre (The Amityville Horror, The Shining, and The Changeling, to name a few) feature a male character corrupted by a spirit (or spirits) which eventually drives them to the brink of insanity. Peli, however, goes down the same path as William Friedkin in the 1973 smash hit The Excorcist. Do not be mistaken - Katie Featherston is no Regan Mac Neil, but her performance relishes in the tender side of the emotional trauma associated with demonic encounters. Featherston's expression culminates as the only portion of the film evoking an understanding of the characters' circumstances, if not outright belief.
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