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Paranormal Activity (Blu-ray Details)

Unique ID Code: 0000132624
Added by: David Beckett
Added on: 31/7/2010 16:36
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    Paranormal Activity

    8 / 10

    There was a period where trailers for Paranormal Activity were on the Internet, on television and in the cinema which, rather than showing snippets from the film going through the narrative, interesting moments and generally spoiling the entire movie, concentrated on audience reaction. Although there were a few clips from the film, the trailer almost entirely consisted of infrared footage of a test audience reacting in a rather extreme way to what they were seeing along with quotes from various websites describing the film basically as the scariest movie to come along in years. This marketing campaign worked beautifully as the film, which notoriously cost under $15,000 to make, went on to rake in millions of dollars worldwide, making it one of the most profitable film ever made based on return on investment, raking in nearly $200 million worldwide.

    Paranormal Activity is one of those 'found footage' films, following in the footsteps of The Blair Witch Project, beginning with a man with a camera filming his girlfriend pulling up onto the driveway, parking the car and walking into the house, all whilst asking him why he has bought such a big and expensive camera and what he intends to do with it. This rather neat opening section does away with clumsy exposition later on as it rather cleverly explains that there have been some mysterious goings-on in the house, concentrating on Katie, and that Micah wants to document these paranormal events and that he has the money and technology to do so.

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    As the opening section of the film establishes the place, people and history, the film unfolds as a series of 'nights', each with a caption telling you the date and which number night it is, as the events unfold over several weeks in September and October 2006. You gradually learn that there have been some inexplicable and rather unnerving occurrences in the house, that they concentrate on Katie, who has been the target of similar 'attacks' since she was eight years old, and that, now they have become increasingly strange, that she wants to do something about them. Whilst Micah wants to document them for posterity, Katie just wants them to end and so has contacted a psychic/paranormal investigator to get to the bottom of what has been happening.

    The film begins without opening credits, instead having a disclaimer saying that Paramount Pictures are grateful to the families of Micah and Katie and is therefore unique in that the Paramount logo doesn't appear, which just plunges you straight into events. As with many other extremely successful low-budget films, this benefited from Internet activity and word-of-mouth marketing rather than a concerted (and expensive) billboard and lengthy marketing campaign. It also helped that a number of critics, some of them hardened horror film aficionados (such as Nigel Floyd), said that they were so affected by the film that they didn't sleep for a number of nights and were extremely jittery when they left the cinema.

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    There isn't a great deal to say about Paranormal Activity without spoiling the film for someone who hasn't seen it as the only thing to really say is that, when I saw it at the cinema, I have never been in a showing like it as the audience reacted in a similar way to that on the trailer with a number of people screaming, visibly jumping and laughing either themselves or at others who had reacted in a more extreme way. Unlike some people, I was not overly affected by the film as it did not live with me for days after I saw it, had no problem sleeping that night (any more than usual, anyway) but I enjoyed it for what it was: an incredibly well made documentary-style horror film with some extremely unnerving scenes and some very well orchestrated jumps.

    For a film like this to well and truly grab you by the throat, get under your skin and stay there for hours, if not days, it needs to convince you that what you are seeing is real so you really feel that you are watching actual documentary footage and that what happens to the people in the film either really happened or was based on real events. Unlike The Blair Witch Project, which really did unnerve me for a good while after I first saw it (and continues to do so, even though I know it is a fabrication), Paranormal Activity didn't work on the same level and, although it delivered some extremely good shocks, it wasn't a film that lingered in the imagination for days afterwards.

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    That being said, I was extremely sceptical about its ability to scare me a second time when watching it at home and I was amazed at just how effective it was as an accomplished chiller. With the curtains drawn and just about every light source switched off or covered, I was able to just about recreate the cinematic experience with the volume turned up and, sitting there in the dark, I was surprised at just how unnerving and scary the film was. It helps that the actors were (and are) complete unknowns and that it didn't have the weight of a well-known director attached to it which would completely undermine the 'is this real?' premise. As much as I like this film, I am also a fan of the straight to DVD Paranormal Entity which was released at around the same time but was probably a film released on the back of Paranormal Activity's success. If you like this film then Paranormal Entity is a disc that is well worth picking up.

    The Disc

    Extra Features
    Apparently there was some discussion at DreamWorks whether to release the film as it was or shoot it again with known actors and have the original (and cheap) film as a DVD extra feature. Thankfully, common sense prevailed, and the film was left as it was with the only questions for writer/director/editor Oren Peli being which balance to use on the soundtrack, what scenes to use and which ending works best. There are therefore two versions of the film which are pretty much the same: the theatrical version and the alternate cut. Both are included on this BD with the alternate cuts having a different ending, slightly different sound effects and scenes that run a little longer than on the theatrical version. I think that Peli got everything is just about right for the version released to cinemas and the only thing I would have changed is the amount of bass that prefigures a supernatural occurrence.

    You don't have to watch the entire alternate version to see the alternate ending as that is available to watch on its own and the only other extra feature is a selection of student films inspired by this one which were made for a competition.

    Oren Peli provides a detailed and information packed commentary in which he divulges that he entire film was shot in his house and that, prior to shooting, he redecorated most of the building, laying hardwood flooring on the landing, putting banisters on the stairs and underscoring how Micah could afford such a building as his job as a day trader allows him to make thousands of dollars in a single day. Peli also talks about how much of the film is improvised and that the actors were given scenarios rather than scripts so they were able to get into character and make their performances as naturalistic as possible. This is well worth a listen as, although he doesn't divulges how the effects were done, he does say that they were all done in camera which is a pretty big hint so you can work out for yourself how some of the more effective scares were achieved.

    Peli also provides an introduction in which he welcomes you to the film but doesn't go into too much detail about what you're about to see so as not to spoil it for you.

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    The Picture
    A remarkably clear picture with very good definition in the darker scenes -- the film was very well lit so that the nighttime scenes don't need infrared to pick out the details as Micah and Katie had a light in the corner of the room which provided enough illumination to show you what was going on without making you think that sleeping with that much light in the room would just be an impossibility.

    One of the slightly more contentious issues is that of the time counter at the bottom right-hand corner which only appears during the night time scenes and was obviously put on in post production when the 'documentary footage' was found and assembled for public consumption. Some of the effects show you how a little thing can go a long way as it is incredible how unnerving a door moving or bed sheet lifting up slightly can be.

    This really doesn't need to be in high definition as, for the most part, the film is just fairly low-grade footage of people in the house but, when it comes to some of the more subtle nocturnal activities, such as the sheets moving or footprints in the talcum powder, the extra clarity does prove to be extremely useful.

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    The Sound
    One of my major issues with the film at the cinema was the sound quality which was absolutely outstanding and is far from the sort of thing that would be picked up by an over-the-counter camera (although the piece of equipment that Micah has is a very expensive camera). The disc keeps that quality with an incredibly well designed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that keeps the bassy rumbling before each nocturnal paranormal encounter and, if you think that this logically, there is no way that Micah's camera, however good, would have picked up this sound.

    As such, I preferred the LPCM 2.0 stereo track which presents the dialogue extremely well, is designed in such a way to keep the sound effects as something that would naturally be picked up by a video camera and doesn't go overboard with the bass. This track suits the film and the 'found footage' genre as The Blair Witch Project only comes with a stereo soundtrack as that is what would have been recorded at the time.

    Should you need them, there are English HoH subtitles available although, as the sound is at least 75% of the film's effectiveness, you are really missing out if you have to rely on subtitles.

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    Final Thoughts
    It is no wonder that Paranormal Activity became such a global phenomenon as the two actors (really named Micah and Katie) give extraordinarily believable and naturalistic performances and each will split audiences down the middle, with some siding with Katie and others siding with Micah -- it is one of those films that, like Cloverfield, makes you wonder why someone would want to go to such lengths to document every minute of their daily life. It is also a film that has the capacity to scare the wits out of you and give you at least one restless night's sleep.

    I was surprised at just how well it stands up to repeated viewings as I thought it would be a film that works well on the first viewing but then, once you know how things turn out, would be an absolute dud on the second (or third, fourth or fifth) viewing. I can anticipate watching this again and still being scared and left slightly unnerved at the ending. In terms of films like this, I am still a great fan of The Blair Witch Project as it does stand up to repeated viewings.

    If you haven't seen this and want a film that will scare you, then you could do worse than renting or buying this as there are at least four good jumps and an ending that will probably have you grabbing onto the nearest person!

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