Friday, August 20, 2010

Film #37: Paranormal Activity (2009)

When there’s something strange,
In your San Diego neighborhood,
Who you gonna call?
Mark Fredrichs!
Manhattan has the Ghostbusters, and the Diego has Dr. Fredrichs.
Only thing is, instead of showing up with a boss proton pack and a wise-cracking Bill Murray, Dr. Fredrichs shows up to his ghostly-house calls with a tacky sweater and a desire to talk about feelings. Bleck! Where is Slimmer when you need him!

But, Fredrichs does his best to help haunted-home renters Katie and Micah with their poltergeist problem in this week’s flick, Paranormal Activity. At least until he wets himself with fear and runs like a Frenchman.

Katie and Micah are a young couple who just moved into a San Diego home together. Playing house was going great for the two, until Katie's dark, demonic secret came to light. Ever since she was a little girl, Katie has been followed by ghosts… one ghost actually. It liked to watch her while she slept, creepily whisper into her ear, and sometimes yank her covers at night… you know, like Nick used to do repeatedly in the girls dorms at Western Michigan University. How did you think he met Mel?
Since it is hard to place a court order on a spirit, Katie just kind of accepted this mild, creepy annoyance as a “well, what are ya gonna do” factor in her life.

After moving in with Micah, the d-bag “day trader” (need we say more about his assy character) becomes fascinated by his girlfriend's personal Casper, and buys a video camera to try and record some paranormal activity.
His favorite ghost hunting move is to set up the camera in their bedroom with the hope of filming things that go bump in the night (he’d like to catch a spirit on tape as well.) He lets the camera run all night, then reviews the footage.

The hauntings start out small. The bedroom door shuts by itself, then strange bangs and pops are heard off camera.
Encouraged, Micah tries to provoke the spirit to show more of its stuff. But Katie doesn’t want anything to do with it. She’s scared of the ghost, and worried about what it might do if Micah pisses it off.

As the hauntings intensify, Katie calls in the top San Diego ghost specialist, psychic Dr. Mark Fredrichs. After some heartfelt, personal Q and A about her case, Fredrichs determines that this isn’t your average dead person trying to communicate from beyond their dirt nap. This is a muther-fing demon, yo, and Fredrichs wants nothing to do with it!

The house isn’t what’s haunted… it is Katie herself this demon has attached too. The chicken-shrink recommends the couple contact a demonologist who just happens to be out of the country and the moment, then lays down a set of rules. Stop filming and taunting the demon, and never, ever feed it after midnight!

Actually, most importantly, don’t try to directly communicate with it via a Ouija board or other device. That is like telling the demon to come out and play… and play it will.
Being the d*ckhead he is, Micah ignores Fredrich's advice and heads straight for the Ouija board – much to Katie’s dismay.
With the portal of communication open, Mr. Demon finally has a chance to show Kate and Micah just what he can do. And it ain’t pretty.

Behold the power of the first-person ghost tale in 2009’s Paranormal Activity.

RDHP Ratings and Reviews

C-Rating: 4.0
Chris Dimick demon-snorts:
Warning, soapbox alert!

"Reality TV is a cancer in our culture, eating away at our minds and turning young and old into self-centered, show-off, attention-whore, drama queens. Because anyone can be on TV, everyone feels they are entitled to 15 minutes of fame. First-person style movies like Paranormal Activity were born out of this current degradation of popular art. That said, I should have hated this movie and what it stands for. But I just can’t… it was too entertaining.

[Chris falls off his soapbox; hits head on cement; dreams of a land free of The Real Housewives of Kalamazoo; wakes up; continues writing]

Yes, Paranormal Activity and its first-person format celebrates this “look-at-me-ma-I-don’t-got-any reason-but-I’m on-the-TV” obsession gripping America, but this old crank found it okay to look past this flaw for one reason: Paranormal Activity is scary and entertaining.
For once! A modern film was scary!

The first person style of this movie – in which all the camera work was done by the actors themselves in a shaky, reality-TV type way – was perfectly executed and draws in the viewer to its “reality-seeming” world. The camera moves when it should, peeking around dark corners with the actors, and stays still when it should – fixed on the sleeping couple's bedroom as paranormal actions abound. The suspense that is built using this style is unrivaled by most modern storytelling. The first-person effect makes the viewer not only feel criminally voyeuristic, but sometimes sadistic, as it is easy to cheer on the spooky scares that are thrown at our dimwitted, unlikeable main characters.

I can’t believe I’m giving this a 4.0 – it really shouldn't deserve it, for several reasons. Our lead characters Micah and Katie were played by awful, AWFUL actors whose improvising seemed rushed, forced and unnatural. Micah is one of the biggest d-bags I have ever seen on the screen, doing things and making claims only an idiot would do in a similar haunting situation. Half way through the movie I wanted these two to be slayed by their ghostly friend… but in a way that was freeing. Since I no longer cared about these two, I could instead cheer on the demon, who slowly stalked our bumbling lovers. Gotta love it when you root for the bad guy!

Another negative, Paranormal fell victim to the same flaw all other first-person style movies face, and will continue to face as long as they are made. In reality, people would turn off the camera when events got out of control, not continue taping merely to “record what we are experiencing.” At least I hope our society hasn’t devolved into one that values recording their lives for the world to see over their own relationships or safety.

For example, there are scenes captured by Micah’s camera that just would never be taped in the real world. At one point, Katie and Micah have a huge fight about what is happening, how Micah keeps filming, and how she just wants the camera off. That camera would be off. In another, Micah wakes up to find Katie has wandered out of bed and disappeared. If you realized your possibly possessed girlfriend had wandered out of bed in the middle of the night, and seemly disappeared out of the house, would you really steadily control the camera around each part of the house calling your lady’s name. Hell no, you’d be tearing ass all over the place trying to find her… WITHOUT THE CAMERA!

But, some suspension of disbelief is required with all movies… and I’ll grant the first-person style film this free pass if what is going on on-screen makes it worth playing dumb. And Paranormal indeed earned its pass, but not for what happened on screen. It won my praise for what it didn’t show. Much of the “action” occurs off-screen, or is done is such a subtle way that it requires the viewer's imagination to fill in the terror. The key to a great horror movie is to, paraphrasing Steven Spielberg, "not show too much of the shark, because it will eventually look fake.”

The theater of the mind projects the scariest images, and Paranormal leveraged this old trick like a master. Thrown in the universally scary scenario of things happening to you while you are trying to sleep in your comfy, seemly safe bed, and this one will give you chills.

Paranormal was a low-budget success story, a trait that made it ever easier for this flick to steal this indie film-lovers heart. Nothing like a simply made horror movie taking the country by storm, as Paranormal did when it was finally released nationwide in 2009. This film is the current generation's The Blair Witch Project, and opened up the horror genre to millions of Americans. My golf claps for the accomplishment, because what is good for one indie horror movie is usually good for the entire genre. Let’s hope more indie horror films are green-light due to its success.

So okay Paranormal, let's summarize: You had horrible acting, your first-person style is flawed and a rip off (I liked this movie better the first time I saw it when it was called The Blair Witch Project), and you are a product of a section of pop culture I detest. But you know what, you had me smiling for an hour and a half after a hard day at work. And I had bad dreams about you that night.

Bravo sir, you earned your 4.0, warts and all."

N-Rating: 3.5
Nick Rich demon-snorts:
"Paranormal Activity was just plain fun. It didn't show me anything I had never seen before, nor did it give me a life-altering experience... it was just plain fun.

Sure other movies had done the whole 'realism' kick before, and sure other movies had done the whole 'haunting' thing before - but frankly, while I was watching Paranormal Activity I didn't care. It gave me exactly what I was looking for in a movie of its kind: tension.
Now I'm not the kind who frightens easily when partaking of the cinematic arts, so it is extremely rare for a movie to downright scare me. Usually the most I can hope for is a nice bubbling stew of tension that keeps turning up the heat until it eventually boils over - which Paranormal does in spades (David or shovel, take your pick).

Did I miss anything in that scene?
Was that shadow moving?
What will these ridiculous people do next?

Although never fully scared, the film instilled in me an almost constant state of anticipation as the story progressed in a predictable, yet enjoyable fashion. I found myself analyzing each scene in great detail to see if I could spot evidence of spooktacular activity. I was engaged as a viewer, sharing the mission of the characters to eek out any evidence I could of unearthly stirrings - which made this film a ball to watch. Then of course there were the delicious moments of genuine tension... having a sense of what was coming next, but not knowing exactly how it would be executed or when... Paranormal walked that fine line of making the audience wait just long enough to reveal itself (a highly coveted quality in a horror flick).

Paranormal Activity, thank you. You certainly were what you claimed to be, and I hope more movies like you are made (not verbatim mind you, but with the same execution and intent). I even hope more people check you out and enjoy you as much as I did. While you are by no means a work of art or will enrich my life beyond the hour and a half we shared together, your company allowed my mind to roam free on a day where it was repressingly full... and for that, your companionship was most welcome. Who knew having a demon gunning for you could be so relaxing?

The Skinny: Check this flick out if you feel like cuddling with your lady/man or are too cheap to buy the Idiot's Guide: How To Anger A Demon."

Things We Learned from Paranormal Activity:
-Use opened junk mail to safely move spiders outdoors.
-Don't provoke a demon.
-Ghosts don't like humans having relations.
-Girlfriends hate being filmed with a camcorder, especially in the morning.
-In San Diego, people eat on the same side of the table at home.
-Fridge ice makers totally sound like a ghost.
-Married people don't sleep "spooning."
-Women hate when you ask them to make a sex tape. (Well, some don't.)
-Demons sleep during the day.
-When communicating with the dead, try and think of a better question than "What is your favorite color?"
-Baby powder sprinkled on the floor is "beautiful."
-One can be too cute to talk.
-Perfect profession for a douche-bag -- day trader:

San Diego's Most Haunted Places
The Paranormal Activity couple aren't the only haunted things in The Southwest D. Examine this list of Diego sites you won't leave with dry underwear.

The Whaley House
Located in San Diego's Old Town, this house has a long and storied history.
This place has it all: loads of dead bodies nearby (the city's first cemetery), possible camera crews visiting from various TV networks (History, A&E, etc) and midnight tours!
If you've ever wanted to capture a white blip on film, look no further!

Petco Park
For years people complained of all the various ghostly "boooooo" noises coming from the park each spring/summer. But with the help of some miracle working Petco staff this year, the boos magically disappeared, and have been replaced by screams!

Ocean Beach
This beach community is known for being haunted by old hippies.
Careful! They may take your life, or your conservative views...
but will probably just take a nap.

The Gaslamp Quarter
After 2 a.m., you can hear crying, yells and screams of the stumbling damned! Watch, as many projectile spew their ectoplasmic innards into various alleys.

Many a night has been chilled by the echos of "giiiiirrrrllll!" and "hhhheeeeeyyyy!" long after the local bars in this gay friendly neighborhood close their doors.

Things Your Girl/Boyfriend Should Tell You Before Moving In
As Katie's personal demon begins stepping up his scares, live-in-boyfriend Micah tells her it would have been nice if she'd divulged her possession before moving in with him. Not on the first date mind you, but "at least by date 30!" Here we explore other skeletons your significant other should release from their closet before putting their stuff in yours.

You know how I said I went to college for six years. Small correction... substitute college for prison and six years for murder.

My inbred cousin and his six feral children traditionally stay with me for the holidays. Which holidays? Oh, all of them.

I never miss an episode of The Tonight Show.

September 23 marks eight years since I was cured at "People Can Change" camp! Wanna celebrate in Boystown?

My real name is Jim Hoffa IV, but don't go spreading that around New Jersey!

Bread, pasta, veggies, eggs, fruit and water give me horrifically stank night gas.

Ummm, there is a reason you've never seen me with my pants off.

Things NOT to do When
There is a Demon in Your House

Yell at It
Demons don't like being mocked, tough guy.

Leave an Assembled Ouija Board Lying Around
It's like leaving a 5lb bag of open M&M's lying around at a daycare...
Expect things to get tore up!

NOT Call a Demonologist
When you have a problem with something always call the dude with
an 'ologist' after your problem's name.
Plus, these dudes wear tweed (i.e. they are most certainly not to be trifled with).

Use Baby Powder as a Defense
It didn't work for little Joey...
And odds are it will only lead to extreme chaffing - not relief.

Stay in The House "One More Night"
One more night is 15 too many.


  1. Can't watch it - "Quarantine" scarred me for life against "reality" horror. Bad "Quarantine" - naughty.

  2. Quarantine was indeed freak-tastic reality horror... it did a great job of sucking you into the situation. Who knew rabies could be so terrifying! :)

  3. 1) I knew rabies could be horrifying (as I worked in an animal hospital for two years - story for another time) and 2) Paranormal Activity would ruin you EVEN MORE since you used to live in San Diego! You might want to reconsider... being scared that much is a rare opportunity you're missing out on! ;)

  4. I believe we're about to see a lot more movies like this one in the near future - and thank god for that. As you can see i'm a big fan :)

  5. hashahahahah paranormal activity is scary i jumped when the demon came up to the camera it scared my guts out of me !

  6. I enjoyed reading your article :) PLease continue publishing helpful topics like this. Regards, from beddingstock.