Paranormal Activity, Movie Analysis
Micah and Katie are a couple that just moved-in in a two-story home in California. It was a modern house in the suburb. One day, feeling distressed, Katie confided to Micah that there had been something (or someone) that had been haunting her since childhood and she thinks that it might have had followed them in their new home. She consulted a psychic who told her that it was not a ghost that had been following her but a demon. Furthermore, the demon feeds off on negative energy and that its main purpose is to torment her no matter what. As a precaution, the psychic advices the couple not to taunt or communicate with the demon and to seek immediate help. He recommended a demonologist to help them. But instead of seeking help of a demonologist, Micah was more convinced that they could solve the problem on their own. To document any paranormal activity that might be going on in the house, he bought a camera; mount it on a tripod in their bedroom and every day records events in their home especially at night when they sleep in hopes that they could solve the mystery.
At first Micah was able to capture minor paranormal activities like the movement of the door and the sound of footsteps downstairs. But as Micah taunts the demon, or maybe it was just obsessed with the camera, the more it gets angrier and the paranormal activities get even more pervasive. One thing in common is that it’s always at the strike of 3am that the paranormal events would take place. Micah’s experiments are making the situation worse and Katie is becoming a danger to herself more. In the end, Micah’s body was found three days later but Katie’s whereabouts remains to be unknown.
The approach undertaken by the director in telling the story was very convincing and believable because it used documentary style. The first time I watched the film, I was so scared because I thought it was a real documentary. And when my friend told me that it was just a film, I still did not believe her because I was so convinced it was a real documentary—there were no end credits and the actors used their real name. It was only after researching about the movie myself through the internet and entertainment news that I was fully convinced that it was indeed just a film, a work of fiction. But because it uses a documentary style in its narrative approach, it fooled me, and many other audiences into believing that it was indeed a true story.
Documentary style narrative approach in film is seldom used because of its lack of commercial value. But when done correctly, it could be very effective in telling a story, as had been proven by this film. Usually, documentary approach is mostly associated in non-fiction works like expository films to really document and explore the various aspect of the topic being discussed. But in this movie, the documentary approach shows that it could also be used effectively in a fiction film to give a more convincing effect. Because there are more skeptics than believers of paranormal activities in real life, using documentary style approach in the film made it more credible, believable, and a lot scarier.
The downside of using the documentary approach however was that there were some parts of the film that were very redundant and gets kind of boring for me, especially on the-recordings-at-night scenes. I do not know if it’s a matter of editing issue, but maybe it was trying to prove a point and trying to develop the ‘minor’ activities and how it becomes aggravated. But it did get boring in some areas so I guess that was the trade off of using documentary style, you are limited in using a singular perspective—the perspective from your camera lens, in projecting a story.
"Paranormal Activity" - Official Trailer
The idea for the film was to give it an impression that it was a true story. Because paranormal activities are something that is overly played in horror film and is a highly over-rated subject, packaging it in a new way and telling it in a ‘new’ manner was the theme of the movie. The theme was trying to explore on the possibility of paranormal activities happening on typical suburban homes—a venue that you would not usually associate with such things. Modern equipment, science, cameras, and technologies—things that we associate with rational world were utilized in the film in exploring the paranormal. All of these things that we are familiar with, things that we associate with modernity, science, and rational thought were used as the focal point of the film to give it relevance.
For the longest time, horror films and demonic movies are always associated with blood, gore, and gruesome scenes. With Paranormal Activity, it was able to deliver a horror film by doing away with a haunted mansion, by doing away with elaborate costume, without involving demonic possession and exorcisms, without using too much special effects and cadaver pile ups. It was a story of a typical couple, living in a typical suburban house. And in a twist of faith, reacting in a way they only knows how—rationally. To document whatever it is and try to solve things by themselves in hope to get rid of whatever it is that have been bothering them through various experiments.
Because of the narrative approach of the film, the musical aspect was quite irrelevant. Since it was trying to pass the movie as an ‘authentic’ documentary, there were no musical score or background editing to insert musical soundtrack. There was nothing fancy. Again, this was a break away from traditional horror movies. Usually, to build up the suspense, most horror film would make the most of the musical score to create and achieve full impact of the scene. But with this movie, there were no musical scores to define the scenes.
Paranormal Activity is a successful film not just in the box office but in introducing a new approach in making horror film. It broke many stereotypes associated with horror movies particularly in terms of the utilization of music and narrative approach. Though the film also has its low points, all in all it was a work of genius because it was able to effectively convince its audience that the film was real. That I think is what makes Paranormal Activity such a huge success as a horror film. That the audience ended up doubting what they believe in—is it real? Is it not? Where they convinced to the point that they do believe it even after finding out that it was just a work of fiction? Now that there are sequels coming out, I think that it might not work quite as well as the first one. The first film was a success because it banked on the notion that it was true, now that people know its fiction, it might be harder to convince them that what they are about to watch would be scary at all.