“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”—H.P. Lovecraft
When someone asks me if I want to watch a horror movie, my response is always “what kind?” because for me, there are two types: the bloody and unapologetic slasher films and then the more thoughtful and insidious psychological horror films. In this era of daily violence on the 24-hour news stations, the less is more approach to horror films tends to win more respect and elicit the desired effect from the audience.
Paranormal Activity is certainly a psychological horror film of the “found footage” species that has become more popular thanks to films like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. Paranormal Activity stands out from its predecessors by how little action there is and how much it leaves unseen. If you can sit there watching a woman stand by her bed over her sleeping boyfriend in a seemingly trance-like state for hours doing nothing, and NOT have goosebumps, then you are obviously lacking your amygdala and should probably consult a neurosurgeon.
This movie is presented as a true story about a young couple, Micah and Katie, who have recently moved in together. Some strange events have been occurring and in order to document them, Micah purchases a professional camera which he intends to use to record their lives inside the house. What Micah does not know, but will discover is the paranormal activity is not tied to the house but to his girlfriend. We learn as he does, that Katie has dealt with strange visions and frightening incidences throughout her life. Micah who initially seems angered that she did not share this information with him, becomes obsessed with communicating with the entity and fighting it. As his obsession with interacting with it grows, Katie’s behavior and the activity in the house escalate until the climactic end.
This film was shot with unknown actors and on an extremely low budget manages to creep under your skin and force you to watch for even the minutest detail of change just as you would in our own home upon hearing a strange noise. We, as viewers find ourselves holding our breath as we watch the couple sleeping, waiting for a boom or a door to slam or some dark shadow to come traipsing into the room. There is no need for CGI effects or well-known actors because it is the fear of the unknown and unseen that gets us. It’s the suspense of subtlety that send goosebumps up our arms and leaves us clutching our chair.
Paranormal Activity got it so right with this movie. Most of the scariest parts occur with little to no dialog and almost never any fast-paced action. It isn’t needed. I love this movie for that. I don’t need any explanations or someone weeding through microfilm in the library. I don’t need a medium or an apparition to tell me something really creepy is going on. And honestly, while I have never witnessed any paranormal phenomenon, this seems much more realistic to me than the ghost standing at the foot of your bed or the mist rolling down the stairs. It’s those disembodied thumbs and footsteps and swaying chandelier that makes your skin crawl because maybe, just maybe there is a logical explanation for it. But what if? That’s the unknown of it, that’s the fear that Lovecraft is talking about and that’s the fear Paranormal Activity draws from you so successfully.