We’re never more vulnerable than when we’re asleep, and Paranormal Activity preys on our innate fear of such defenselessness.
An intimate, lo-fi horror flick, the movie stars Katie Featherston and
Micah Sloat as Katie and Micah, a young couple who have been bothered lately by bumps in the night. Micah sets up a camera in their bedroom – the wide angle captures both the couple asleep and the hall and stairway just outside their door – in hopes of getting a glimpse of what’s going on. They get that, and more.
Paranormal Activity is a slow-burn horror movie, my favorite kind. Writer-director Oren Peli understands that dreading something is often worse than experiencing it. And so the most excruciating moments in the film are those in which the screen returns to that static shot of the bedroom at night. The time counter clicks away in the bottom right-hand corner, and you’ll find your eyes clinging to it like a life preserver.
As an entry in the “found footage” genre, Paranormal Activity isn’t as polished or seamless as Cloverfield or the 1999 standard bearer, The Blair Witch Project. Many of the scenes outside of the bedroom struggle to justify the presence of the video camera, while Sloat makes Micah such a frat-boy blowhard that it isn’t long before you’re rooting for the paranormal presence.
I won’t reveal whether or not the cocky Micah is put in his place. I’ll only note that as it proceeds, Paranormal Activity touches on something else unsettling about falling asleep: You’re especially vulnerable if you share your bed.