It's hard to trust movie critics on horror and comedy flicks. Comedy is a way people group themselves, not really a learned discipline. Comics can learn delivery to bring in a wider audience but people don't really learn how to be funn. This is meant as a note to every struggling actor & actress in L.A. paying tons of money to comedy coaches and improv classes. You might learn some stage techniques that will help you if you are funny in the first place but you are not funny in the first place. You know how I know that? You're an actor. You take the craft of acting seriously, therefore you have no sense of humor. Horror, to get back to my thesis, is just not liked by most critics. If a critic tells you the new Janusz Kaminski horror movie is well-crafted and eery that is a code word for boring. Remember when critics lined up in a bukkake line for The Blair Witch Project? That movie shouldn't even have been released. It's a bunch of jackasses getting lost in the woods and crying. But they had a good website and critics blew loads on it so it ended up making a shit ton of money and put Lions Gate on the map. Fuck Lions Gate for giving us that shitty movie and not even making the kids that made it obscenely wealthy. In my very direct route I am telling you that I had some reservations about Paranormal Activity. I didn't bother learning about it until the day I saw it and I didn't have real high hops for it. Based on my bad experience with critically acclaimed horror in the past.
I love horror movies in general. I can watch a terrible horror movie and hate it without ever turning it off. I loved A Nightmare on Elm Street from the second I laid eyes on it, and it was just stepping into the place previously held by movie monsters of the past (Godzilla, King Kong, werewolves, et al). I used to buy, steal, borrow books about monsters and horror movies constantly as a kid. But the monsters, for the most part, never struck me as scary in any real way. I just thought they were neat in the same way I liked the TransFormers. There's only one scary monster for a Catholic boy from D.C. like me. The Devil is it. He tells you to be gay and to eat poop. He's a molestor. It's worth the side note here that Drag Me To Hell is one of my favorite movies of the year so far.
Paranormal Activity does not concern itself with The Devil, per se, but it is dealing with possession and demons. I think of demons as spawn of Satan, so they might be working for him. I think the weakest part of the movie is the twist ending but let me build up to that point a little bit more.
First off, let's talk about what the movie does well. It avoids the handheld shakiness that most movies shot on video seem to wear as a badge. The fact that half the film takes place while the antagonists are sleeping is a smart conceit because it allows a natural reason for the camera to be on a tripod. I like the low-rent special effects. There are actual special effects in here. It's not ALL sound tricks and "atmosphere." Even though I was expecting the shadows and the footprints and the door slamming at some point, I didn't ever know when to expect it in the immediate scheme of things. Except the footprints. There was really only one place in the movie for the footprints. The ghost whisperer guy was a great external influence. He gave us a reason for a single setting by forcing the realization that they couldn't really run anywhere. And he was believable in his motivations as a character. The speeding up and slowing of the time code on screen was a good use of resources as well. It's good to focus the audience without necessarily leading them.
So what misses are there? Visually, this movie could date itself pretty fast. The actors and the house look like 2006. That's going to hurt the movie in the long run because the parameters of what is possible in digital film are changing drastically right now. This already is supposed to look like a home movie. I'm not sure how well it can stand up to multiple viewings because it secretly revolves entirely around visceral shocks. Most importantly, to me, is that the character of the lead male is very much a type more than he is a character. He's the male equivalent of a scream queen. Adds very little to the proceedings with his dialog/arrested character arc. I wish he would have done more to inject an honest reaction to what is in front of him.
This isn't a great review but I highly recommend this movie. It's as scary as a movie can be for me. Who isn't a little bit scared of the dark and the devil? The more primal the fears the deeper the connections in story telling. Paranormal Activity hits as many right spots as it can. I will probably never expend the energy necessary to even shallowly dissect Spike Jonze new movie, A Staggering Work of Pompous Unoriginality, but if you are taking suggestions from me, Paranormal Activity is much more worthy of your dollars.