Like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999), this low budget, horror film is an elaborately staged fiction made to look like fact. And similar to that cinematic novelty act, PARANORMAL uses video footage to tell a story after it’s already occurred. The screenplay by first-time director Oren Peli (who’s uncredited) centers around a young suburban couple (Katie Featherstone, Micah Sloat) who set up a video camera in their bedroom to discover the source of some strange noises making eerie bumps in the night. The “hauntings” persist in various manifestations and skillfully escalate toward the movie’s genuinely unnerving conclusion which almost literally gets in your face to yell “boo.” To elaborate any further would diminish the impact of a movie that’s perfect for Halloween viewing so I’ll laud what makes it work. Excellent performances happen when you don’t catch actors acting and both Featherstone and Sloat are natural to the point of using their real names for the characters they’re portraying. That they seem somewhat ill-suited for each other only adds to the build-up of tension in the film. Sound is generally not something viewers pay attention to but it’s used to great effect here in generating suspense by signaling the unseen arrival of a “demonic presence.” Light and shadow also figure prominently in the taping scenes which are well set up. There are some hints that this is no “reality” film. Certain shots are angled in a fashion that require someone behind the camera recording the actors and the convention of “people doing stupid things that doom them in horror movies” makes its appearance near the end. But even if this “clever beyond its cost” film doesn’t make any year-end top ten lists (It might, though.), it will be one that will stay in my memory for a long time.
CRITIC’S NOTE: Prior to seeing this movie, I was warned at the box office that “certain scenes might cause you dizziness.” I’m glad to say that my equilibrium remained intact and that this admonition might only have been a clever point-of-entry device to make a viewer feel uneasy even before entering the auditorium. I do think such warnings are useful since I would have appreciated being told before seeing TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN that “this movie might make you throw up.”