“Paranormal Activity” was originally reviewed by Variety on Jan. 18, 2008, at the Slamdance Film Festival.
At the time, Variety described writer-director Oren Peli’s micro-budgeted horror feature as “one of the best genre spins on the pseudo-nonfiction first-person-cam since ‘The Blair Witch Project.’ ” But “Paranormal’s” path to commercial release has been a laborious one: Initially, DreamWorks intended to simply use it as a DVD extra for a bigger-budgeted remake it signed Peli to create. When that fell through, the pic shifted to Paramount’s shelf.
Nearly two years later, Paramount is taking the unusual approach of launching it via free midnight screenings in various metropolitan and college markets, encouraging viewers to urge wider bookings via online service Demand. This simple yet hair-raising enterprise, reworked somewhat (most notably with a new ending) since its festival premiere, could definitely parlay word of mouth into sleeper success.
Trimmed from 96 to 85 minutes, the pic now gets to the scary stuff faster, without sacrificing the credibility of unremarkable San Diego couple Micah (Micah Sloat) and Katie’s (Katie Featherston) incredulous attempts to deal with a hostile unseen force in their home. Initially skeptical, Micah bullishly determines he’ll “take care of” the problem himself; a technophile, he insists on using video cameras to record any phenomena, even though a psychic consulted says opening any channels of communication with a demonic presence is a very bad idea.
Which indeed it proves. “Activity’s” dominating key scenes are a series of nighttime bedroom surveillance-cam sequences whose eerie quiet and progressively more alarming manifestations had the audience at a San Francisco midnight screening nervously laughing, clapping and screaming throughout. “Paranormal” is a great audience experience — watched on the smallscreen, it would lose not only the collective thrill feel, but its subtler chilling effects (a faint shadow on a door, etc.) might be lost entirely.
Peli’s original ending wasn’t as terrifying as much of what came before, but delivered a cruelly ironic final twist. A new, more fantastical finish goes for a couple of jolts that are perhaps more genre-conventional. Still, they certainly do the trick.
Transfer to 35mm looks great, which is to say crisply convincing as high-end homemovies. Sound mix seems spruced up a bit; the things going bump in the night now do so with stereo gravitas.