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'Paranormal Activity' creepy, but not so scary

Article Published: Oct. 29, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'Paranormal Activity' creepy, but not so scary

"I can't believe I ate the whole thing." Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat star in 'Paranormal Activity.'

Put "low budget" and "horror movie" together, chances are you'll have a laugh, maybe an "E http://www," and most certainly an "Oh, come on."

Paranormal Activity has all of the above, but is an ambitious step toward breaking that mold, proving that decent writing is far more effective than buckets of gore, computer-generated monsters and Sorority Row.

It's an earnestly made low-budget horror movie, embracing a seldom tried but very true adage, wherein chills come courtesy of what one doesn't see. And though there's plenty to go around in Paranormal, it's far from groundbreaking and hardly new.

While it breathes some life into a rapidly decomposing genre, Paranormal Activity is delightfully creepy, but never outright scary. Ignore tell of "the most terrifying movie ever" or claims that nightmares are included with admission. It won't keep you up at night, but it'll keep your interest, maybe throwing in a few goosebumps for good measure.

Shot in "mockumentary" fashion, Paranormal presents its tale as found footage, opening with engaged-to-be-engaged couple Katie and Micah testing their new video camera, purchased by Micah (newcomer Micah Sloat) to observe and record the supernatural goings-on that have plagued Katie (Katie Featherston, Mutation) since childhood.

Skeptical and curious, Micah approaches the project with a light heart, contrary to Katie's anxiety and well-placed fear. When a psychic (Mark Fredrichs, Wristcutters: A Love Story) warns them not to anger or provoke the spirit, Katie grows even more disapproving of Micah's antics, as does something else.

Katie reluctantly agrees to have the camera placed at a wide angle in their bedroom to capture anything that goes bump in the night, and it does just that. At first, the surveillance records mild activity, such as the bedroom door opening and closing, but as the days progress, each night becomes measurably - and miserably - more intense.

Unseen objects fall, heavy footsteps are heard, lights flicker on and off, doors slam shut, and something keeps invading their bedroom. When Micah betrays Katie's confidence by bringing in a Ouija board - another surefire no-no from the psychic - hell begins to break loose.

The handheld camera technique works well for Paranormal Activity, displaying in a realistic manner the very things that creeped us out as kids - unexplained noises, mysterious shadows, flickering lights and plain old dark hallways.

And for the most part, it doesn't rely on jumps, gore and run-of-the-mill scare tactics, at least until a rather disappointing conclusion that's obviously been tacked on to replace the original ending, which is available on YouTube.

Featherston and Sloat make a convincing couple, coming across as ordinary folks caught in an extraordinary situation. Sometimes, they're almost too convincing, as the often obnoxious Micah makes one wonder why Katie would fall for such a self-righteous oaf. But with the exception of the psychic and Katie's friend, Amber (Amber Armstrong, The Code: Legend of the Gamers), who shares a minute or so of screen time, the couple carries the entire film throughout its compact 86 minutes.

And they're a generally entertaining 86 minutes, even though the final product seems like somewhat of a letdown - by no major fault of its own, but rather all the hype surrounding. By no means is it the scariest movie of the year, a title more appropriate for Vince Vaughn's Couples Retreat.

Written and directed by first-timer Oren Peli, Paranormal Activity was reportedly shot on an $11,000 budget (in Peli's own house) and netted $21.1 million this past weekend, cutting down Saw VI by a cool $7 million. Released in 2007 and only making its way to wide distribution this fall, Paranormal's cumulative earnings of $61.6 million have already earned it a distinction as one of the most profitable films in cinema history. Just not the scariest.

Paranormal Activity, rated R for language, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

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