It doesn’t do much, but what it does? Does it well. Made on a minimal budget, with a single high-definition video camera, a handful of actors, and some very careful sound design (by ace mixer Mark Binder, brought onto the project by Paramount after subsidiary DreamWorks picked it up for release), Paranormal Activity purports to document a few weeks in the nighttime life of Katie Featherston, a young woman whose world is being haunted by a demon. Shot entirely vérité style, either on a tripod or handheld by Katie’s boyfriend, Micah, the movie shows the couple coping with weird noises in their house, consulting a psychic, considering the pros and cons of ouija boards, etc., as the frequency and intensity of sleep-disrupting otherwordly activity increases.
Somehow, writer/director Oren Peli hits exactly the right tone, infusing this transparently phony ooga-booga material with just enough po-faced credibility to encourage willing suspension of disbelief. To this end, I really appreciated Mark Fredrichs’ utterly sincere, understated performance as the cordial psychic. (But what’s up with those multiple layers of clothing that Katie wears to bed every night? Do young women really sleep like that these days?) This is obviously best seen in a theater full of freaked-out teenagers, college-students, and/or festival attendees, but if you can allow yourself to be strung along at home, there’s still a good time to be had here.
The no-frills Blu-ray Disc from Paramount accurately reproduces the show’s lo-fi look, and it sounds great, with occasional bursts of low-frequency effects (subwoofer comes in handy here). Special features are limited to a brief alternate ending that lacks the oomph of what was finally settled on. (The very different ending that was reportedly included in original festival screenings beginning in 2007 is not appended here.)