“A cultural phenomenon at time of release, that has not aged well”
The Story (from IMDB.com)
Micah, a day-trader, and Katie, a student who claims that a ghostly entity has haunted her since her youth, are a young couple “engaged to be engaged”. When Katie suggests the ghost has followed her to their two-story tract house in suburban San Diego, California, Micah buys a video camera in the hopes of capturing paranormal activity on film, a project that will ultimately last three weeks. Attempting to communicate with the entity is strongly discouraged during a visit to their house by Dr. Fredrichs, a psychic who assesses that they are being plagued by a demon which feeds off “negative energy” and is intent on haunting Katie no matter where she goes. Dr. Fredrichs also recommended the two contact Dr. Abrams, a demonologist, and Micah’s reluctance to do so leads to frequent arguments between the couple. Each night, Micah leaves the video camera on a tripod in their bedroom to record whatever might be occurring while he and Katie sleep. He manages to document several phenomena such as objects moving on their own, lights and televisions switching on and off, and sounds ranging from voices and growls to footsteps and loud thuds. The strange occurrences in the middle of the night soon involve Katie awakening to spend several hours standing by the bed and staring at a sleeping Micah, and going outside to sit on the backyard swing. She ultimately does not remember her behavior the following morning.
Katie, already irritated by Micah’s making light of the situation, becomes further infuriated when Micah brings home a Ouija board after Dr. Fredrichs had warned them against it. While the two are out of the house, a wind blows through the living room and the Ouija board’s planchette moves on its own before a small fire erupts and extinguishes on the board. Later, inhuman footprints are left in baby powder placed on the hallway floor by Micah. In the attic, Micah finds a charred photograph of a young Katie previously thought to have been destroyed completely in a house fire. The next night, the bedroom door slams itself shut and is accompanied by violent knocking and banging. Dr. Abrams is abroad when Micah finally agrees to invite him, so Dr. Fredrichs agrees to make a second house call. However, Dr. Fredrichs immediately has a sense of foreboding upon entering their home, and apologetically leaves despite Katie and Micah’s desperate pleas for him to stay and help.
That night, Katie is forcibly dragged out of bed and down the hallway by an invisible force. Hearing her screams, Micah gives chase and wrestles her away, and Katie emerges from the struggle with a gruesome bite mark on her back. Stressed and exhausted, the couple decide to go to a hotel room. After daytime events see a glass picture frame break and the portrait inside become scratched, and Katie gripping a plain wooden cross so tightly that it bloodies her palm. A suddenly calm Katie insists to Micah that they instead remain at the house, following a smile from her at the camera indicating a demonic presence in her. That night, Katie once again awakens to stare at a sleeping Micah for several hours, goes down the stairs into the darkness and begins screaming. Micah wakes up and runs to her and the camera can only see the bedroom and dark hallway as it records the sounds of a struggle upon his arrival downstairs. Micah and Katie’s screams are cut short, and brief silence is heard followed by sounds of heavy footsteps coming up the stairs. Unexpectedly, Micah is hurled at the camera, knocking it over. Still filming, Katie slowly walks into view, her face demonically contorted and her clothing covered in blood. She crouches to sniff at Micah’s lifeless body, then smiles at the camera before lunging toward it as the screen cuts to black. An ending title card states that Micah’s body was discovered days later by the police, and Katie’s whereabouts remains unknown.
Another version of the ending has been seen, similar to the original. After Katie and Micah’s screams are cut short downstairs, there are loud thudding footsteps that come up the stairs and we see Katie come into the bedroom with a big blood stain on her shirt. She sits on the floor at the side of the bed and begins rocking. The time fast forwards and the phone rings. Katie continues rocking as her friend leaves a message, and eventually visits the house. Half an hour after we hear the friend run out of the house screaming, we hear loud knocking on the front door. The police arrive and as they’re searching the house, we see a light come on down the hall in the closet or guest bedroom. They come upstairs to find Katie and she finally “wakes” up and stands up holding out a knife. Shots are fired and Katie falls and the police search for the shooter. Finding no one, they search the bedroom and find that the camera is still recording. An ending title card says, “Dedicated to Micah & Katie.”
Despite me watching the original Paranormal Activity just now in 2022, my first experience with the franchise was quite a number of years ago as a teenager with the second film. I remember greatly enjoying that film back in the day, so I was quite excited to see its forebear now. Sadly though, I have to say I was largely unimpressed.
First and foremost, a major issue I encountered with this film is just how unlikable, at least early on, the boyfriend character of Micah is. For your girlfriend to be telling you a horrible story of how she and her sister were haunted by a demonic force as children, only to have their home and all possessions then destroyed in a massive house-fire and your response is to laugh? For a film which is all about us as the viewer wanting to see our protagonists survive their haunting and make it out the other end alive, this film really started off rough.
Something else which seemingly was never really explained (or at least I never heard) was why Micah felt the need to record mass portions of their days and nights early on in the film. The story here takes place in late 2006, and while I believe YouTube was a thing then, vlogging and such was not mainstream. Micah walking around his home and recording his wife and guests with fairly large cameras and such came off as incredibly unrealistic and took me out of the film early on.
One of the earliest scares of the film involves Micah and Katie relaxing in their living room, when a strange noise comes from their kitchen. Not even a second after this occurred, I said aloud “it’s the fridge.” The film meanwhile spends about two minutes stretching out the search for this noise, only to reveal of course that it was indeed the ice maker. At this point about twenty minutes into the run-time, I was greatly worried the entire film was going to follow this rather boring path, but it thankfully improves dramatically after this point.
When Katie calls a psychic to their home to investigate the activity, Micah once again returns to his jackass ways, and I was once again asking myself if I was supposed to be rooting for his survival, or for the demonic entity to kill him. I really do not understand why, especially after viewing the entire film, Micah was portrayed to be so unlikable towards the beginning of the film. He dies at the end quite heroic, running straight into demonic activity to save his girlfriend.
The actor who portrayed the psychic did a pretty solid job, and I really liked how realistic he was in describing the paranormal and such. As for the actors of Micah and Katie, I thought they were mediocre, in a good way. In no way, shape, or form was this film going to win awards, but considering both actors were unknowns prior to this film, I thought they did alright. Katie’s actress towards the end of the film does a great job in displaying how horrified, and then detached from reality her character has become, while Micah’s actor just always seemed detached from what was occurring, in a bad way.
One of the biggest frustrations I had with this film has to do with the bedroom door of our two protagonists. Despite all Paranormal Activity emanating from the end of their second floor hallway and the first floor living room, they choose to keep their bedroom door wide open every night. Again, while I understand you have to suspend disbelief for horror films to work, this was extremely asinine to the point where it harmed the film. Even at the end of the movie where they know they’re dealing with a potentially lethal creature they still keep their bedroom door wide open. This was another example where the two protagonists came off like complete dumbasses and really hammered the nail in their own coffin.
While we’re on that topic of the protagonists being idiots, let’s quickly run down the other problems. After the first few encounters with genuine Paranormal Activity, our boyfriend and girlfriend duo decide to laugh it off like it’s a joke. After one especially shocking encounter where the Demonic entity slams itself against their (finally) closed bedroom door, Micah decides to immediately open said door and run outside mere seconds later. I know I’m beating a dead horse here but I really do not understand why the filmmakers decided to make our protagonists so damn stupid to the point of unlikeability.
One of the positives of this film however is the solid job it does in portraying the breakdown between Micah and Katie in their relationship due to the massive amount of stress they are under. How they go one moment from screaming at each other, to then encountering Paranormal Activity and huddling together in a corner for safety was very well done. It very much drove home the fact that Micah and Katie were entirely at the Demonic entities mercy, which gave the ending an extremely dark and bleak tone.
One question I asked myself quite early on was why the two of them did not simply remain in a public place until the demonologist arrived back home to aid them. When the psychic makes his second and final trip to their house, he gives a rather poor explanation that where the two of them go matters not as the entity will always follow Katie. I’m sorry, but I have to call complete bullshit on that explanation. While it would be far from comfortable, Micah and Katie remaining in a public place over the next couple of days would be much more preferable than remaining in their home alone where they will Inevitably be killed by the dark force.
Towards the very end of the film when Katie has essentially become little more than a human vegetable, Micah makes the declaration that the two of them are leaving for a hotel immediately. During our next jump cut a few hours later in the night, the two of them are back sleeping in their home bedroom with the door wide open. At this point, I had more or less given up on the characters of this film making any logical decisions and was more or less ready for them to finally meet their end, which they were going to do in only a few minutes, and boy was the ending quite flat.
Now I have to preface this with saying I watched the original ending where the possessed Katie kills her boyfriend. There is an alternate ending where Micah simply vanishes into the darkness, while Katie charges and is killed by police the following morning, but I have yet to see that one so I’ll be speaking on the original ending which I believe is considered canon.
While the ending was by no means horrible or atrocious I would label it simply, flat. The most haunting part of all has to be the slow trudging footsteps on the staircase after Micah is seemingly killed, but that slow build horror for me was largely ruined by Micah’s body then being thrown across the room at us for a cheap jump-scare. Katie then proceeding to sniff Micah’s body was a bit strange and actually got a laugh out of me. I’m not quite sure how I feel about the possessed Katie staring into the camera and smiling carrying out the one and only fourth wall break of the film, but I kinda feel like it wasn’t really needed. While I haven’t seen it yet as stated previously, I have a feeling I may enjoy the alternate ending a bit more.
All in all I would say that Paranormal Activity is just a bit above mediocre. While by no means a bad movie, especially in the genre of horror which has some pretty bad stinkers out there, Paranormal Activity felt like it really did nothing special or new. I know there are a lot of people who call it one of the biggest found footage horror films (though it’s not really found footage) to ever release, but in my opinion, it is vastly inferior to the likes of The Blair Witch Project. While I largely shit on this film throughout most of my review, there are some pretty good things about it and it’s definitely a film you may enjoy on your first viewing. While I would not recommend going out of your way to see this movie, I definitely think if you’re a major horror fan like me you need to give this a watch at least once due to its cultural impact on the horror genre.
Pros & Cons
- Katie Featherston gives a solid performance as Katie
- Many of the supernatural special effects are well done
- The foreshadowing towards future films felt quite natural
- Some truly suspenseful moments throughout
- Micah Sloat gives a rather dull performance as Micah
- Both characters are quite illogical throughout
- First twenty minutes moves at a snail’s pace
- Ending feels very rushed
“I’m pretty sure what we did was illegal in Kentucky and twenty other states.” – Micah