One thing that ups the fright factor in scary movies from the pre-1990s era is the way that a hint of technology could have nullified the whole bad, bloody experience. Like, if she had only had a cell phone, the Tom Petty fan in "The Silence of the Lambs" never would have ended up in a dank dungeon pit while her capture tried to find a pattern for the Slanket he planned to make, using her skin for material.
No cell phone means one less escape plan. Older movies have, unintentionally, been granted an additional layer of horror only because now we are used to a certain style of life, and in that style of life 9-1-1 is never more than a fingernail click away. Cell phones give a little bit of control to the victim, until, of course, that scene where NO SERVICE blinks across the screen.
A little bit of control over a situation and no control over a situation. That is the difference between a scary movie and a terrifying movie: "Paranormal Activity" is the latter.
The low-budget horror movie stars Katie and Micah, a young couple living together in a two-story house in California. Katie has had an on-and-off again relationship with a paranormal force since she was 8-years-old, something she neglects to mention before they move in together. When she begins experiencing those familiar bumps in the night, Micah drops a load of his paycheck on a video camera, with which, he plans to do the sort of surveillance that is all the rage on "Ghost Hunters International" and "Paranormal State."
"Documentation" becomes Micah’s buzz word.
The entire film is, seemingly, shot from the footage that Micah (and occasionally Katie) takes, and includes interviews with Katie, moments of couply flirtation, and a meeting with a psychic who walks into their home, gets the willies, and tells them he is not their guy. He doesn’t deal with demons, he says to the couple, and gives them the name of a colleague befor hot footing it out of town.
Meanwhile, the bumps and thuds continue and become more aggressive. Many nights, between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., the couple wakes to hear something walking up the steps or turning on lights, or chucking Katie’s car keys across the room. Micah revisits the captured scenes greedily and giddily, poring over the film the next day. Documentation.
The more they learn, the worse the situation gets: It’s Katie who is haunted, so leaving the house won’t do any good. And that thing that’s haunting her? It’s not Casper. It’s an unseen demon. The cloven footed kind. The kind of thing that requires an exorcism. And we all know how those turn out … Read: Bring a bib.
There really is no "yeah, but!" escape plan in this scenario. A viewer will go through these stages during a scene where the couple is locked in the bedroom.
Thought: Oh My Gah! Call 911!
Thought: Pssh. What is 911 going to do.
Thought: Get out of that house!
Thought: But wait, that thing is going wherever Katie goes, so it’s no use.
Thought: But get out anyway!
Thought: That will do no good!
Thought: Shoot it!
Thought: But you can’t see it.
Thought: Get the demonologist on the phone!
Thought: He’s out of the country!
"Paranormal Activity" is a riot, and definitely the kind of thing that should be seen in the theater. And it has that linger effect: It sticks with you when you crawl into bed.
* "Paranormal Activity" is playing at Zinema 2. Show times here.