Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli, 2007/2009)

You cannot run from this- it will follow you. It may lay dormant for years. Something may trigger it to become more active and it may over time reach out to communicate with you”

I remain a keen viewer of the Saw series. When this clearly-inspired-by The Blair Witch Project film came along, I was skeptical. I definately didn’t think it would have the longevity of the Saw series in theatres, let alone have any type of credible following. I would like to think that we Saw fans are very-much thinkers – we like the twisted-moral-compass Jigsaw has and hypothesize what we would do in such a situation. It makes us feel intelligent – the attributes of a thinking-mans film. Opposed to jump-scares and moving lights. Paranormal Activity only managed to achieve a viewing from me when I was offered a guest-spot on the LAMBcast discussing Paranormal Activity 2. I was hardly going to ignore the intial film and watch the second alone. Recently, I watched the first film again with Sarah and then, back-to-back, watched the second and third film a second time (the first for her) and I do believe there is a little more depth to the sequels then people let on. Maybe more than just ‘jump-scares’…

Micah and Katie

What I am well-aware of from the outset is how this first film set the scene. In many ways, the depth and themes are less of an issue in this film. The ‘set-up’ was what attracted studios to the film and the ‘set-up’ is what attracted audiences to the film.

We see one camera in a house in an attempt to “catch” whoever is taunting couple – Katie and Micah (aka. “Meeeka” no “My-cah”). The backstory is limited as Katie explains how she had multiple “experiences” since the age of 8. She claims her hosue was burnt down and she can’t remember certain things. What keeps out interest is the approach Micah has to the situation – he clearly doesn’t feel threatened or in danger and, crucially, seems to believe Katie is overreacting. As the story progresses, Micah appears to be more foolish as he completely ignores Katie’s advice by using a Ouiji board and then ignoring the advice of the ‘expert’ by becoming exceptionally angry for no clear reason (“What the fa-a-a-a-ck!”). Rather than the subtext, which is clearer in Paranormal Activity 2, it seems the focus here is the relationship between Micah and Katie. How they speak to each other and treat each other – and how ‘healthy’ the relationship is.

Relationship Issues

The fact that the ‘demon’ thrives on the anger within the household, it is physically representing the coping mechanisms of their relationship. As the two become more frustrated at each other, the demon becomes worse. The moments of peace seem to give the demon a moment to fester – akin to the moments you reflect on a situation and realise the severity of the issue. Even sleeping, we all believe might be an escape route from moments of stress and conflict, can actually highlight how these minor ‘issues’ between Micah and Katie have not been resolved. I recall a newspaper article celebrating the marriage of a coupl which continued after 70 years – thier “secret” according to the man was how they always resolved issues before going to bed.

Katie turning to an expert is a wise decision. A paranormal investigator who advises them against anger – advice which Micah fails to follow. Eventually, this leads to the poltergeist/frustration-in-relationship becoming dangerous and, eventually, destroys Micah – and therefore the relationship itself.
Technical Scares

Technically, it is clearly influenced by The Blair Witch Project amongst the recent barrage of ‘home-footage’ films. Nevertheless, it still manages to create ‘scares’ in its use of doors, noises and the ‘throw’ finale. Even the use of footage, unto itself, is a device which creates incredible tension. In a similar manner to the footage in Signs, the footage is simply shocking because it is delivered to us in a manner that gives the impression it is ‘real’ opposed to the glossy reality we normally see on a cinema screen. Add to this the use of text – “Night #5”, etc – as if to give a sense of authenticity.

I believe Paranormal Activity is not ground-breaking, and doesn’t pretend to be – but it does bring a fear home to us. Jaws was the fear of water, The Blair Witch Project was the unknown in a forrest and while camping. Paranormal Activity portrays a very ‘normal’ couple who are approached in the night – that feeling when a little air brushes past your leg when you sleep; the bang downstairs because a window has been left open, etc. The biggest fear is the unknown – and we don’t see the poltergeist and are left to imagine the ‘feeling’ in the house. Indeed, it is this feeling which we can all relate to but we cannot put our finger on. The feeling that something just isn’t right and we obsess and think about it too much. If you are in a relationship you are not happy within – you can feel it. Something just isn’t right and though you can’t put your finger on it, you know it’s there. Fear that your home, in and of itself, is wrong … and it is slowly changing who you are completely.

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