Paranormal Activity is released Monday 22nd March. By now just about everyone and their pet hamster has heard about this movie. The trailer, whose marketing impact is not to be sniffed at, depicts ‘real’ audiences gasping in horror at the ossifying action they are witnessing on screen. It’s an enticing advertisement which promises the viewer raw, ancient, primal terror.
And Paranormal Activity is, indeed, utterly terrifying, the trailers do not lie. But this is not what makes it so engaging, or indeed interesting, that is down to the curious, brilliant but underdeveloped sub-text.
Paranormal Activity is not a film about ghosts, demons, or the things that go bump in the night. It is a film, quite surprisingly, about women and the patriarchal society that still surrounds them.
The plot is admirably succinct. A young couple, Mikah and Katie, are unsettled by a strange presence in their home. In order to find out what’s afoot, Mikah attempts to capture the ‘ghostly’ presence on camera. However, the spirit turns out to be far more than he bargained for, a demon.
Many people have drawn direct comparisons between this film and The Blair Witch Project, both movies being low budget horrors that make aversions to ‘found footage’. These similarities are largely immaterial however as Paranormal Activity is a far more successful product.
Rather than creating tension through shaky cam panic, the film makers utilise static camera work in order to create a bilious and heavy miasma of rising trepidation.
The scariest moments in Paranormal Activity occur when Mikah attempts to capture the demon on film. Placing a camera in the far corner of the bedroom, he leaves it running over night and what it records is positively jaw dropping. During these moments, like the camera, the audience cannot look away. There can be no mistakes here; nothing is covered by amateur camera movements. It all plays out, coldly and clinically in front of our eyes.
Early on, the medium character states that the demon will feed off negative energy. If we are to believe this then the progressively violent haunting can be largely attributed to the personal demons that haunt the couple’s relationship.
The camera is a catalyst that indiscriminately antagonises both couple and demonic spirit. It draws an emotional barrier between Mikah and Katie and indicates to the demon that they wish to see it, to communicate with it. Coupled with this it presumably feeds off of the couple’s descending moods. Of course, none of this is really Katie’s fault. Yes, the spirit has followed her, her entire life, but it is not until Mikah provokes it that it becomes a force of violent attrition.
It is suggested that the demon only pursues women; it obsesses over them and eventually consumes them. This is not only a supernatural demon but a violent manifestation of male dominance. He -and it is most certainly a he- owns Katie from the start and will only impregnate her further with his presence as the film continues.
More disturbing than the demon, however, is Mikah and his obsessive control over Katie. Mikah does love Katie but he expresses it in the wrong way. Constantly re-affirming his ownership over her, he aggressively confirms her as his possession. In his eyes this evil spirit is trespassing on HIS property.
Paranormal Activity is no Sirkian masterpiece that alludes to sexual repression and masculine impotence. No, it’s not that. But it does utilise certain vital elements atypical of the melodrama, largely, to moderate success. Examples of such elements are the house as the woman’s space, her prison and the acting is both deceptively naturalistic and hysterically theatrical. The only thing stopping this movie from being a stone cold classic it that is it doesn’t take its themes of gender politics and patriarchal society far enough.
is an undeniably impressive horror and an intelligent one to boot. But, despite itself, it fails to really engage with its own subject matter.
Still, you can’t put a price on a good scare and in that department, this film certainly delivers.
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