Directed by Oren Peli
Starring Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat
Released on October 14, 2007
Running time: 1h 26m
Rated R (Edit out all of the f-words and it’ll be PG. Seriously.) F-bombs per minute: 0.45
I was in middle school when this movie came out, and the general consensus among the student populace was that Paranormal Activity was effing scary. I looked it up, saw the R rating, was dismayed because my parents would never let me watch it, and forgot about it a little while afterward. I remembered it a few years later. You see, in the middle of my high school years, I became interested in finding the scariest movies ever made. I searched far and wide across the Internet for ways to watch these movies online for free (I didn’t own a debit card). I saw plenty of movies, and rarely did they scare me. And then I remembered Paranormal Activity. Looking forward to a hopefully terrifying experience, I sat down at my computer, made sure my parents weren’t watching, and watched the movie.
I almost fell asleep.
When the movie ended, I said to myself, Wow. That was really freaking bad. I researched how it did critic- and audience-wise, and saw that the reviews could be grouped into two main groups: 1) the “true horror fans” who say that this is one of the scariest movies of all time, and 2) those who call it a boring, flimsy mess. I gladly sided with the latter. I let Paranormal Inactivity sit in the dark recesses of my mind until January of 2016. With the intent of reviewing it, I watched it again. It was just as bad as I remembered, but I didn’t have enough material for a review. Then came March of 2016. I thought, Screw it; I really detest this movie; I’m going to review it by hook or by crook, and watched it again, making sure to really pay attention, take more detailed notes, and really think about it afterwards. And yes, it was just as bad as I remember it.
Before the movie starts, it acts like it really happened, saying that this was footage held by the police and was only just released to the public. Yes. Because the events in Paranormal Inactivity totes happened, like, 4 real.
You probably already know this, but Paranormal Inactivity is found-footage. Because I’ve had sooooo much fuuuuuun reviewing that type of movie. The Gallows is still fresh and painful in my memory.
A young couple, Katie and Micah, have moved into a new house in San Diego. Micah has bought a professional camera to record all paranormal activity that may or may not occur. Question: what made Micah buy the camera? What made Micah think that the house was haunted? Judging by what we learn about Katie later in the movie, there should have been no paranormal activity happening at all. They’ve just moved in.
It’s a bit funny when Micah talks to the camera. By the way, when you consider memory space and battery issues, Micah using this camera to record his and Katie’s daily life would be seriously impractical. He would have had to have purchased a dozen batteries and some terabyte-sized memory cards. Plus, this movie is set in 2006. Do the math.
By the way, both before and after dinner that night, their living room flatscreen TV is still playing the same scene of All in the Family. Typical liberals.
After a few funny lines, Katie and Micah go to sleep for their first night. All right, I’m going to try harder to be scared by letting my imagination fill in the blanks! And…all that is heard is a few footsteps, as well as a low humming sound that accompanies every haunting in this movie. Ooooh. I’m really trying to be scared by this. I’m just…not.
The next day, Micah checks the camera, and we get a just-long-enough-to-be-awkward shot of Micah’s CoinNet t-shirt. Can you say “product placement”? An admittedly funny sequence happens involving Micah in the pool, miming a fishing pole with one hand, and reeling in a middle finger from his other hand. Later, Katie receives a visit from Dr. Fredrichs, a psychic. After a Kirkland water bottle product placement, Katie tells him that a presence has been haunting her since childhood. Katie gives us a bit of history that will only be referred to once more in the movie: her childhood home burned down. After telling Dr. Fredrichs her spiritual issues that are intentionally vague (all will be revealed in the sequels), Dr. Fredrichs tells Katie that the presence is not a ghost, but a demon, and that it will follow her everywhere she goes.
Uh…why are you revealing such a heavy plot device so early in the movie? We’re less than ten minutes in and already the haunting is revealed and explained! Katie’s demonic stalker becomes a contrived, downright idiotic Deus ex Machina! Now, I realize that demonic stalkers are a real issue. No sarcasm whatsoever. Some people have described being followed by demons for decades. Yes, that could possibly include the Follower from It Follows. But this is a ridiculous plot point that applies a Band-Aid to the cancerous tumor of the plot hole of “Why don’t they just leave the house?”. In fact, it would have been scarier if there was no facepalmingly contrived background whatsoever. It’s so much scarier when you don’t know why the haunting is happening. Sinister was scary because we were only fed tiny, precious tidbits of information on what Bagul (Bughuul?) actually was. We finally got an idea of who he was and how he worked just before the twist ending. Plus, I thought that this movie was about paranormal activity, not demonic stalking. Why not just title the movie Demonic Stalker? Also, if this movie’s antagonist is a demon, that means it is here to possess Katie. Why doesn’t it just cut to the chase? Why does it need to do some practically childish stuff before the eventual possession?
And of course Micah is skeptical of all of this, even though he’s the person who bought the camera to record the paranormal activity. Oh, and here’s another issue with Micah: the way his name is pronounced. Instead of pronouncing it “my-kǝh”, it’s pronounced “mee-kǝh”. Instead of referring to him with the same name as the Old Testament prophet Micah, I’ll call this little pink pincushion in my underpants Meekah.
Dr. Fredrichs tells Katie that demons are not in his jurisdiction, but then proceeds to give Katie a barrage of information about demonic stalking. He then tells Katie to contact a demonologist, Dr. Johann Averies, for extra help. He leaves soon after.
That night, Katie tells Meekah that she’s going to contact the demonologist, but Meekah is adamantly against that, calling the demonologist a “Jesus freak”. Well, eff you too. Katie compromises, saying that she’ll contact the demonologist if things get worse. Gee. I wonder if this is going to come back to bite her in the ass. But no, seriously. This is serious, actually dangerous stuff. If there’s demonic activity going on, you need to get as much help as you can as soon as possible. The idea that we have no idea what demons are capable of could have been scary in this movie, but as we’ll learn soon enough, our demon is an effing moron.
Katie and Meekah go to sleep, with Meekah wearing the same shirt he wore last night for some reason. Okay, here’s another night of paranormal activity! I’m going to try harder to find this scary! I’m going to use my imagination to fill in the blanks! And…a door moves on its own, and keys drop on the floor. Oooooooh. Well, I’m only twenty minutes in. I’ll give it time.
The alarm goes off at 6:14 the next morning for some reason. Evan Almighty reference? Stuff happens the next day, and the next night arrives quickly.
Meekah is reading up on demons and what they do. Does that include lightly nudging a door and dropping keys on the floor? Meekah also talks about the intelligence of demons. Yeah, I know that demons are incredibly intelligent, but this one is really freaking stupid. Meekah also mentions that Katie never told him about her demonic stalker. Uh, Meekah, when is there ever a good time to talk about demon stalking in a relationship? Before he and Katie go to bed, Meekah goads the demon into doing more stuff. Because that will totally help the situation.
Katie and Meekah go to sleep. All right! I’m going to try harder to be scared! I’m going to make my imagination fill in the blanks! And…all we get is a bang, giving us a cheap jumpscare. Dammit. This is just not scary. I’m sorry; I’m really trying to be scared. I’m just not.
The next morning, when Meekah goes over the footage from last night, he mentions buying a Ouija board to communicate with the demon and ask what it wants. Because that will totally help the situation. Katie is adamant that he do no such thing.
That night, before going to bed, Meekah calls the demon “worthless”. Yes. Because that will totally help the situation. Seriously, you don’t EVER insult a demon or goad it into doing more stuff!
Okay! It’s another night of alleged scariness! I’m really going to try to be scared by this, and use my imagination to fill in the blanks! And…a few hours after they go to sleep, Katie and Meekah are awoken by a demonic screech and a loud bang, giving us another damn jumpscare. I’m sorry! I’m just not scared by this! Despite their fear, they still go down and check things out, only to see their chandelier swinging. Why? If there were real people in this situation, they’d still be in bed, clinging to each other.
The next morning, Katie tells Meekah that all the paranormal activity happened after Meekah bought the camera. Because it’s totally the camera’s fault. Meekah goes into the bedroom with an EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) recorder and a microphone. Meekah starts asking questions, but it quickly devolves into quoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This breaks the unspoken rule of not referring to a better movie in your own crappy one. Meekah goes over the recording and hears a demonic grunt when he asks if he should buy a Ouija board to communicate with it.
Stuff happens, and then the next night comes. Okay! I’m going to really try to be scared by this and let my imagination fill in the blanks! And…Katie gets up, stands at the foot of the bed staring at Meekah for about two hours, then goes outside and sits on the backyard porch swing. This means that Katie’s possessed, right? I’ll admit that this would have been a little creepy, but events later in the scene completely ruin it. Meekah wakes up and goes outside to find Katie. She refuses to come back in, so Meekah goes back inside to fetch her some blankets. That’s nice of him. But Meekah hears a thump, and the TV in the bedroom turns on. And it’s the giant box type. If Meekah and Katie are so rich as to afford all of this stuff that they have at their house, then why haven’t they replaced the giant box TV with a flatscreen? They clearly had one downstairs. Meekah goes upstairs to investigate, but Katie all of a sudden appears behind him, exhausted. Meekah asks Katie what’s going on with her, but Katie doesn’t remember what happened. Katie and Meekah go back to sleep.
The next morning, Meekah confronts Katie about the previous night, though he doesn’t even show Katie the footage of her acting weird. Katie seems to have returned to normal.
Wait, what? The demon clearly took possession of Katie’s body last night! But then…the demon left Katie’s body soon after! Uh…I guess the demon…took a sample? Like at Costco? I used to be able to go there, do a sample run, and leave stuffed, but now that’s not the case. At least I can get a hot dog and a frozen yogurt for less than five bucks. And the hot dog even comes with a free drink. I guess the demon wants to do more creepy crap first.
Katie and Meekah plan to go on a date that night, but Meekah surprises her with something he bought: a Ouija board. Katie reacts accordingly, but, strangely, she doesn’t cancel the date on the spot. In fact, she still takes Meekah out, probably to verbally castigate him in public.
First, Meekah, you’re a bastard for getting that damn Ouija board. Second, Meekah, you do not want to mess with this type of thing. It can and will hurt you physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.
While Katie and Meekah are gone, the camera at home records the planchette on the Ouija board moving around, and the Ouija board itself catching on fire. Uh, not only is the board wooden, but the table and the floor are too. How does this fire on the Ouija board not spread to the table, the floor, and the entire house?
But we forget about the fire as soon as Katie and Meekah get home. Meekah goes straight to the board and checks it out. It’s not burned, surprisingly, and is only covered in odd scrawls that just look like somebody added a bit of sediment to a glass of water and dropped drops of water + sediment all over the board. Kind of like the tap water at the house I lived in while attending college. Also, Katie kicks Meekah out of the bedroom. Oh, the horror! Relationship issues instigated by the male! Meekah resigns himself to his couchly fate and goes to sleep.
The next morning, Meekah asks Katie what he needs to do for forgiveness. They make a compromise. Katie forces him to film himself verbally signing a vocal contract to abide by Katie’s camera rules and regulations. In return, Meekah gets to try out an experiment: tonight, he will sprinkle talcum (I think) powder in the upstairs hall, at the top of the stairs, and in the doorway to their bedroom. Meekah goes over the footage from last night and tries to determine what letters the planchette moved to on the Ouija board. That night, Meekah is allowed back into the bedroom, and I guess…all is forgiven. That issue was let go with ease. If only Katie’s rules and regulations applied to the rest of the film.
Okay! New night! I can try to be scared of the movie again! I can use my imagination to fill in the blanks! And…unless your eyesight is effing Godlike (mine is not), you’re not going to see the three-toed footprints that are about two-foot-tall-goblin-size. Seriously, those footprints are tiny for a demon. They’re even smaller than my hand. And yet, Katie and Meekah don’t decide to get the heck out of the house. Instead, they decide to investigate. They go down to a closet near the end of the hall, where the attic access panel is open. Meekah decides to further investigate. Meekah climbs up into the attic and finds a slightly burned photo of Katie as a child. Katie is disturbed by this. I’m disturbed too! The demon’s been living in the attic all this time with a childhood picture of Katie in its possession! That’s creepy! That’s like a weird, dodgy uncle who’s legally ordered to stay over a mile from any elementary school! Katie, are you sure that it’s a demon that’s haunting you? Are you sure you don’t have a strange, suspicious-looking uncle that’s gone missing recently? Check your fridge, he may have stolen food. Check the attic some more, he may have a sleeping bag up there, as well as a bottle of lotion and a box of Kleenex. Seriously, ew. Okay, our villain may be creepy, but it’s creepy in the wrong way. I could understand if this was Asmodeus, the Prince of Lust, but it’s clearly not, as Asmodeus is significantly smarter than the demon we have here.
Also, don’t get used to this plot point. It’s tossed aside just like Katie’s temporary possession and the Ouija board. You’ll forget about the picture by the end of the next scene. But seriously, what was the point? Meekah could have just heard something, seen a pair of eyes, or even been accosted by the demon. But no.
Speaking of the next scene, Meekah tries to tell Katie that he’s making progress, that he’s in control of the situation. Katie rebuffs him in the obvious manner, by telling him that he’s clearly not making progress and that he’s obviously not in control of the situation. Katie goes farther by telling Meekah that the demon wanted them to find the picture. Yes. The demon totally wanted you guys to find the photo by putting it in the attic instead of on the bedside cupboard, the kitchen counter, or on the coffee table.
Katie tries to contact Dr. Averies. You know, the demonologist that we totally forgot about. Unfortunately, Dr. Averies is out of town. And apparently there are no other demonologists in the world, because Katie makes no attempt to contact a different one. Come on. If you wanted, you could have called on Lorraine Warren. She’s still alive. Ed’s dead, though, so you won’t get the full effect. Either that, or the filmmakers couldn’t afford to hire another actor while still keeping the movie on a $15,000 budget. Gee. It’s almost like refusing to contact the demonologist until now was a bad idea.
Ooookay…here’s ‘nother night…gonna try to be scared…gonna let my imagination…screw it. I’ve already been burned too badly by how infuriatingly unscary this movie is, so I’m not going to bother. Anyway, the lights on the stairs turn on and off, and the bedroom door slams in a cheapass jumpscare. Katie and Meekah wake up with a start, and hear the demon bang on the door and rattle it. Strange. If the demon slammed the door, shouldn’t it be on the inside? Katie and Meekah get out of bed and open the door for some reason. Katie grabs the camera and follows Meekah. They go to the hall closet again for some reason. Katie says that it might be a trap. I respond, “No, Katie. There’s still thirty minutes left. You’ll be fine until those thirty minutes run out.” But the bedroom door slams and gets banged and rattled on again. It then creaks open.
Two issues with this scene.
First: I know horror movies rely entirely on people being stupid, but this is a found-footage flick that’s claiming to be real! Why do Katie and Meekah immediately run to investigate everything? Why, in this night’s situation, did Katie willingly get out of bed to follow Meekah, carrying the camera for him, no less?
Second. I was serious when I said that we have only thirty minutes left. Why am I still dealing with the issue of movies being too short for their own good, showing that the movie clearly lacks substance? It’s a vexatious situation.
HENRY VIII (A Man for All Seasons): I will not brook! It maddens me! It is a deadly canker in the body politic, and I will have it out!
I heavily panned The Forest and The Gallows for their astonishingly short lengths and poor pacing. They gave too much time to the gap between exposition and the final buildup to the climax. However, I have seen films that actually do well with short lengths. One of my favorite movies of recent years is Taking Chance, and it didn’t even reach an hour and twenty minutes. But the story was short and restrained. Any longer and it would have overstayed its welcome. Plus, during its seventy-four-minute length, stuff happened. A story was told. We met our characters and got to know them. A virtuous message was given. We cried for a person we hardly knew. And at the end, we felt a sense of completion. Unfortunately, such is gone from The Gallows, The Forest, and, in turn, Paranormal Inactivity. Heck, this issue goes as far back as Darkness Falls.
But I’ll complain about everything after I’ve finished going over the plot of the movie.
A few hours into the next morning, Katie and Meekah hear a bang. They go upstairs to investigate (again, why?) and find that one of their photos of them has had the glass shattered and Meekah’s face scratched out. Katie, who is standing by the closet at the end of the upstairs hall, stops moving, and quietly says that she can feel it breathing on her.
Since Dr. Averies is out of town, Katie calls Dr. Fredrichs. Upon his arrival, he is immediately intimidated by the demonic presence. Telling Katie that the demon is pissed that he’s there, Dr. Fredrichs quickly leaves. Uh…does that mean that Katie and Meekah are just supposed to find a demonologist that the demon…likes? Plus, if the demon is mad that Dr. Fredrichs is there, does that mean that he could do the demon some sort of harm, including but not limited to banishing it back to Hell? Also, why did Dr. Fredrichs come just so he could spout the same BS that he gave last time? Could he not have just told Katie that over the phone?
Meekah, you’re an idiot for refusing to let Katie contact Dr. Averies. Katie, you’re an idiot for agreeing with Meekah.
When night finally came, I found myself amazed that Katie and Meekah were still sleeping with the lights off.
Okay…another night to be oh so scared…because I’m using my imagination to fill in the blanks. And…the sheets move, a shadow appears, a light turns on and off, the demon breathes on Katie and growls. Hey, at least we can actually see a shadow.
The next morning, Katie tries to ignore the situation by studying, and gets pissed at Meekah carrying the camera. She goes off on Meekah, telling him and his camera to eff off. But a few minutes later, Katie is on the floor sobbing. And Meekah is still filming her. I can’t tell whether Meekah is being a craphead, or if he has to be one to get it all on camera for the director.
Problem: the movie had to tell us that Katie is breaking down. Therefore, the movie has failed to actually show Katie slowly breaking down. We’ve seen her breaking down, but we haven’t experienced her breaking down.
Here’s where things get real…with only about ten minutes left in the movie. Come the eff on.
Some tapping is heard during the day, and night comes quickly. I’m going to dispense with the usual nocturnal opening. The demon drags a screaming Katie out of bed and into the hall and slams the door. Meekah, for the first time, doesn’t pick up the camera as he dashes down the hall to grab Katie and briefly try to get Katie out of the demon’s clutches. Meekah gets Katie back into bed. Oh, so now he doesn’t pick up the camera? We could have actually seen something.
The next morning, Katie and Meekah have decided to leave the house. Katie is downstairs on the couch. She is absolutely dazed. She may as well still be in shock from what happened last night. Even though the demon clearly didn’t bite her last night, Katie has a bite mark on her back. Seriously? Katie’s screams last night were out of fear, not out of pain.
Later that day, Meekah has packed some bags and gotten them in the car. But Meekah finds Katie in the kitchen, gripping a cross so tightly that her hand is bleeding. Meekah gets Katie to a couch and tends to her. Meekah, don’t take Katie to the couch. Put Katie in the car, and take her to a hotel. At least you’ll be out of the house. Better yet, take her to a church. Any church covered in Christian paraphernalia will do. A demon cannot tread on hallowed ground. Get to a church and get some spiritual help. If demons are real in the world of Paranormal Inactivity, God is obviously real as well. Get some serious help from the other side of the spiritual spectrum.
But Meekah, as usual, refuses to use the slightest amount of logic, and that night, in bed, Katie quietly insists that it’ll be safer if they stay at the house, and that everything’s going to be okay now. Obviously, that’s a lie.
By the way, I forgot to mention a scene in which Katie and Meekah find the account of a woman online who’s had the exact same experiences Katie had, but back in the 1960s. But this scene is never mentioned again, therefore making it entirely pointless.
We arrive at the final night, and the final two minutes of the movie. The night begins with a clattering sound. Katie wakes up, stands by the bed, and stares at Meekah for almost two hours. She goes downstairs, and, surprisingly, at the same time Ronald DeFeo Jr. killed his family (3:15 AM), Katie begins screaming for Meekah. Meekah runs downstairs to help Katie, again not taking the camera with him, but Meekah is attacked and killed. Heavy footsteps are heard ascending the stairs. Meekah’s corpse is thrown at the camera, knocking it to the floor. Katie is standing in the doorway with blood on her shirt. Katie walks to Meekah’s corpse, then gets down on her hands and knees and sniffs it. She then notices the camera. She crawls up to it, grins, and then lunges at it, her face demonically contorting just before the screen cuts to black. Way to break the fourth wall.
Meekah’s body was discovered soon after, and Katie’s whereabouts remain unknown…until Paranormal Inactivity 4.
We get a “the characters and events in this film are fictitious disclaimer” and ninety seconds of a black screen instead of credits.
One. Why didn’t Katie just kill Meekah upstairs? She didn’t have to get up, stare at Meekah for two hours, go downstairs, scream for him, kill him, then drag his body upstairs. She could have just killed him while she was upstairs.
Two. Why did the possessed Katie lunge at the camera, other than to break the fourth wall and give the audience a cheap scare? In a film that focuses mostly on atmosphere (whether or not this worked is another question entirely) rather than cheap scares (though there are some of those), ending the movie with a cheap scare because “boo” ruins whatever atmosphere the film might have built up.
Three. If the demon attacked the camera, why didn’t it destroy the footage? The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing people that he doesn’t exist! I’m pretty sure that demons know how to use computers. Oh, wait, I forgot how stupid of a demon we’re dealing with.
Four. After all that work you went through to make this movie seem like real life, you’re going to put a “people and events in this film are fictitious” disclaimer at the end? You just shot yourself in the foot before you even started to reach for your gun. The gun inexplicably discharged in your holster and fired a bullet into your foot. The wound will be particularly grievous, and will require amputation.
So that was Paranormal Inactivity, and let me tell you, it did not deserve even a shred of the hype it got.
This movie got hyped literally to hell and back as the next scariest movie ever. It showed audiences jumping in their seats. At that screening, people allegedly became so scared that they walked out. And if the movie wasn’t playing in your area, you could go to eventful.com and demand it to be shown in the theaters nearest you. If you demanded this movie on eventful.com, you could have your name added to a list of people who helped make Paranormal Inactivity. By the time November 2009 came about, the film was playing worldwide. By the way, The Gallows tried the same marketing scheme sans eventful.com, and it still made a ton of money hand over fist.
The movie acts like a morbidly obese guy trying to run a marathon. He rockets right out of the gate, flab bouncing everywhere, but he won’t even get fifty feet before he has to slow down and rest. He tries to get going again, but he’s clearly done. That’s the energy that the movie has. It can do nothing but plod along at a sluggish pace.
The movie also acts like a typical Internet screamer. Say that this video is about a minute long. The user gets hyped as s/he clicks on the link and the video starts. The user gets bored as the video goes on. The user then jumps with a start as the scary face pops up in the last few seconds of the video. That’s Paranormal Inactivity in a nutshell. Heck, even Scary Maze Game easily mirrors the structure of Paranormal Inactivity.
It’s the ultimate bait and switch. It’s like being told that you’re getting served a nice, juicy, marinated, medium rare 12 oz. sirloin steak, and then you’re given and forced to eat a whole durian. Just the edible parts, though. You’re immediately taken aback when you see it, it tastes disgusting, and your breath smells awful for hours afterwards. Your breath will smell so awful that you won’t even be able to go into certain buildings because of signs that prohibit durian inside.
Please stop trying to tell me that Paranormal Inactivity is Hitchcockian just because of its slow pace. In the sacred Psycho, the plot took its time, but it still moved fast enough to keep us interested. To supplement the pacing, Hitchcock made sure that stuff happened. Major stuff happened. Marion Crane and Detective Arbogast were stabbed to death, and the ever-twisting plot kept us guessing the whole time until literally the final two minutes! Moreover, the characters we were dealing with were actually interesting and relatable. The characters in Paranormal Inactivity are not.
The Blair Witch Project, while not good, excellently executed the Slow Build. But it forgot to resolve after the climax. In fact, it ended just as it might have actually been getting good. But in Paranormal Inactivity’s case, the climax never came. It was just a boringly and painfully slow burn that never attempted to build up until the last two nights. It’s like arriving at the most hyped Super Bowl in history for the last minute of the game. Paranormal Inactivity just barely started to get going when it stopped.
The plot makes some semblance of sense, but it is full of sinkholes. We don’t even get to learn how and why this started and why it’s still going. Yes, I know we learn in the sequels, but the first movie should not have such gaping plot holes, especially because the filmmakers had never thought about sequels, let alone come up with ideas for them while making the movie. Insidious explained why the stuff was happening. Dalton’s astral self was unable to get back to his body, and there were a ton of ghosts and a literal demon trying to get into Dalton’s body. That’s why legitimately scary stuff happened. That’s why the hauntings followed them to their new house. Katie and Meekah should have at least had the common sense to take the opportunity to get to the bottom of things and to actually do something about it, or, at the very least, get help. But no. They were too stupid to even do that.
If the antagonist was a demon, why did it act like a poltergeist through most of the movie? Why not push one of them down the stairs? Why not throw one across a room? Why not toss objects around willy-nilly? Well, we do get one scene of Katie getting dragged down the hall, but that’s about it. Oh, and the bite. And the possession at the very end. Seriously, do more demonic things! Don’t just wait until the last ten, then two, minutes! I could bring Shia LeBeouf in here and have him scream at the demon, “JUST DO IT!” Do you remember the paranormal activity surrounding Regan’s possession in The Exorcist? Those incidents were creepy!
Even the sound quality is poor. If The Gallows and even The Blair Witch Project have better sound quality than Paranormal Inactivity, it did something wrong. And The Gallows was shot on camcorder and mobile phone!
But what makes Paranormal Inactivity truly bad is just how unscary it was. My threshold for horror in film is amazingly high. I guess Paranormal Inactivity was not meant for horror junkies like me. Every scary scene boils down to this: We hear a sound or something changes its position, and then we’re supposed to scream. The film forsakes scaring us for feeding us such riveting scenes involving people sleeping, brushing their teeth, chatting, eating, arguing, whining about their situation, etc. Sure, there are some foreboding moments, but they were poorly set up, lacked sufficient payoff, and were quickly forgotten. Tension is not allowed to build, and things end too quickly. There is no sense of peril toward the actors until the end.
I get that you’re supposed to use your imagination to fill in what the camera cannot. But we have to be given a foundation on which to base our imagination. But Paranormal Inactivity is the equivalent of being given a piece of paper and being asked to build the Burj Dubai on it. Plus, the idea of “you just have to use your imagination” has gotten so tired. If I want to use my imagination when seeing a movie, I’ll go watch an actual good movie like 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Seventh Seal or Eraserhead or Perfect Blue.
I also understand that what isn’t seen can be scarier than what is seen, but we need to actually have an idea that there might be or there is actually something there. Stuff needs to actually happen. I get that just seeing something slightly out of place or seeing something move slightly can be scary, but we need to actually see stuff happen.
Also, part of what’s scary about a demon infesting a house is the investigation to see what’s really there. This psychic claimed that a demon was present based only on feelings. Why not investigate and see what he finds?
But what truly undermines this movie’s scariness is this: its lack of developed, likable, relatable characters. For most of the movie, the characters seem largely unaffected by what’s happening. Even though roughly 85% of the movie is entirely character-focused, we’re not allowed to empathize with them or even get to know them very well. Katie and Meekah share very little chemistry, and fail beyond measure as coming across as a real couple. In fact, they feel more like caricatures than characters. However, you could learn some important relationship lessons. For example, if your girlfriend’s being haunted by a demon, get as much help as possible as soon as possible. Don’t buy a freaking Ouija board. Be there for your girlfriend, as her emotional stability will be at an all-time low. Katie at times had glimmers of depth to her, and at times I felt sorry for her. But when she’s as stupid and annoying as she is, all sympathy vanishes. And Meekah is an idiot desperately trying to come off as a big, bad, rough, tough, suave, slick, cool, “TESTOSTERONE-FILLED MAN-PENIS!” Sorry, Doug, I totally stole that. Good horror movies derive their fear from us not wanting characters that we like to die. This is something that this movie did not understand. When a horror movie tries to scare us, but its characters are unlikable and underdeveloped, all fear goes away. In rare cases, developed and likable characters can even make up for a less-than-fantastic story.
I will bring up Taking Chance again. I got to know each of the small characters in Taking Chance in a few minutes, let alone the entire running time. Paranormal Inactivity failed to do even that. Taking Chance developed its characters through deep, emotional dialogue. What was more, Taking Chance was able to make us empathize with each of its characters because each of its characters were directly written to be human and lifelike. In fact, the majority of them were directly taken from the account that Lieutenant Colonel Strobl wrote. In fact, they felt like actual American citizens not only being open and personal and letting us get to know them, but showing their gratitude toward and respect for Lance Corporal Phelps through small acts of kindness.
In an era of failed remakes and sequels, a contrived film that is painfully unscary fails to stand out to me from the muck. Films like The Hills Have Eyes, Cloverfield, 1408, and Orphan that came around back then were scary. Orphan and THHE are two criminally underrated examples. Orphan was scary because of the stark contrast between the innocent, angelic “Esther” and the insane, homicidal Leena. I had grown to love “Esther”, thinking of her as the perfect solution to Kate’s grief over losing her unborn child. It was horrifying to see “Esther” become Leena and try to kill off her adopted mother, brother, and sister, and have a sexual relationship with her adopted father. THHE was terrifying because its characters were up against an unseen but ever present threat that was willing to go to great lengths to kill and eat them. The villains were terrifying, and when I watched the movie for the first time, I was almost in shock (obvious exaggeration) seeing Pluto and Lizard attack the group and not only rape one and kill three, but kidnap the baby and torture the father with her cries. And do you know what those two movies had in common? They had interesting, well-written stories, and developed, likable characters that we did not want to see die. That’s part of what makes these movies scary. Not only having characters in peril, but having characters that were developed and likable. And no, I haven’t seen REC, The Mist, or El Orfonato. Yet.
And finally, Paranormal Inactivity was made out of greed, by spending the minimum amount of money for the maximum amount of profit. Paranormal Inactivity uses its micro-budget as an excuse to forego a well-written story, developed and likable characters, good writing, passable acting, camerawork that is pleasing to the eye, and actual sound quality.
Paranormal Inactivity is an unbelievable and hokey film that was only rated R because Katie and Meekah dropped F-bombs willy-nilly.
Thank heaven that Oren Peli wasn’t trusted to write another film until 2012’s amazingly dull Chernobyl Diaries, and not trusted to direct another film until 2015’s lethargically dull Area 51.
But I have one last question for you, dear reader, to whom I send a virtual handshake.
Who hasn’t heard bumps in the night?
Final verdict: .5 out of 5 stars.