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Horror flick epitome of paranormal mediocrity

Determining the merit of a new film may be difficult when so many trigger-happy critics are awaiting the first chance they get to blow a fresh release out of proportion. And yet, it can’t be all hype. Seeing a teenage girl exit the theater in a fit of hysterics may lead one to believe that “Paranormal Activity” may just be that movie that transcends mindless hype that it might just be “one of the scariest movies ever made,” as some viral ad campaigns would have us believe.

If the consistent giggling heard throughout was any indication, “Paranormal Activity” simply is not that scary. Not bad by any means but hardly the horror juggernaut that it was made out to be. 

“Paranormal Activity,” a mockumentary by first-time director Oren Peli, premiered at the Screamfest Film Festival in the U.S. on Oct. 14th, 2007 and played only in select theaters. In 2009 the movie was released for the general public, albeit with a few cuts and a cleaner ending, resulting in rave reviews from critics and a whopping $19 million in its first weekend alone, beating out “Saw VI”. The movie was filmed in a week on a budget of $15,000, yet has grossed $61.5 million thus far. Needless to say, expectations were high, which made this movie-going experience that much more disappointing.         

Micah and Katie, a young couple, move into a new home in San Diego. They are happy and life is good until Katie reveals to Micah that she has been haunted by a demon since childhood. Micah is determined to get to the bottom of his girlfriend’s curse, so he decides to try and capture all of the potential weirdness on camera. 

The reality show that is the first 20 minutes of the movie leads up to the terrifying introduction of the demon, when the camera catches their bedroom door move slightly in the middle of the night.

All hell breaks loose when the demon starts leaving footprints, breaking picture frames and setting the Ouija board on fire.

The freakiest moments in the movie were those quietly creepy scenes when Katie was possessed by the demon. The director makes good use of his limited budget to create moments of nail-biting suspense without the use of sophisticated Computer Generated Imagery effects or buckets of gore.

Unfortunately, those moments are few and far between. The majority of the movie may as well be a couple’s episode on Dr. Phil, as Katie and Micah quarrel over Micah’s stubbornness while their relationship disintegrates.  From disputes over bringing in a psychic to Micah’s obsessive camera use, the whole thing feels a lot less like horror and a lot more like Lifetime.

The rest of the movie is comprised of nighttime footage, during which all said “paranormal activity” takes place. These moments—or at least the lead-up to them—can be creepy, but quickly become predictable, to the point where they often elicited laughter instead of fear. Hearing a mock “Whoooo!” halfway through the movie cemented that the audience was left rather unimpressed.

Gauging the crowd response, the real victims of fear appeared to still be in high school. The average cynical college student, however, appeared more amused than frightened, chuckling at every chance and injecting wit during every moment of silence.

“Paranormal Activity” appears to breed two reactions: one is complete terror and the other, laughter and mockery. You will either gasp in horror, or giggle at the absurdity, but the movie was entertaining regardless. For all respects and purposes, the critic is the real murderer here.

Rachel Dougherty can be reached at rdougher@student.umass.edu.

Dmitriy Gabriel can be reached at dmitriy@student.umass.edu

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