Rating: 3 out 4 stars
Running time: 86 minutes
Starring: Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat
Sometimes the best movies come from a minuscule budget and an unerringly realistic presentation.
"Paranormal Activity" fits the bill.
Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston are a San Diego couple with a problem: Ever since the two have moved in together, Micah's house has been a little unsettling with weird noises and the unmistakable presence of an otherworldly nature.
With both of them feeling nervous about the things that go bump in the night, Micah insists on having a camcorder on hand at all times so that they can document what's happening and see if they can get rid of it. Katie, who claims she has been haunted off and on since the age of 8, is concerned about upsetting the entity but grudgingly agrees to the process.
The nightly recording sessions begin Sept. 18, 2006, and start simply enough, revealing their bedroom door moving by itself and an occasional rumbling sound as they sleep. A psychic (Mark Fredrichs) warns them about trying to reach out to the other side, but Micah is certain he and Katie can work out the difficulty themselves.
As the camera starts to pick up more disturbing occurrences, the couple soon starts to fear for their sanity.
People in their 20s are quite possibly the most fun to watch being terrorized in horror films. Teenagers are the easiest sell, of course, but the next age group up is even better because they are caught in between the latent innocence of being an overgrown child and having the worldly wisdom of an adult.
College student Featherston is typified perfectly in this regard, as she is reasonable enough to not want to pester evil spirits for the sake of voyeurism, but that doesn't stop her from screaming her head off at what happens to her and her beau. Sloat, who seems to have far too nice a house for someone his age, matches her as her ignoramus boyfriend, who just doesn't seem to comprehend what kind of forces he's toying with by embarking on a self-stylized spirit surveillance.
If "The Blair Witch Project" and "Cloverfield" have taught us anything, it's that having the camera as an active participant in the story can make the movie-viewing experience terrifying and/or nauseating with awkward movements.
That kind of jolting motion comes in fits and spurts here, with most of the action taking place while the camera sits atop a tripod in the bedroom, but the stillness is equally frightening. It's a slow buildup from the initial moments of contact, which seem easily explainable, but the tension mounts as the story progresses, effectively leaving the audience in a state of being truly unaware of what will happen next.
Rather than get bogged down with cumbersome effects and a big-name cast, this little horror show does what few mainstream tales of terror can do anymore by scaring people with a nuts and bolts staging complete with a competent application of sound and light.
The developing online fan base for "Paranormal Activity" may have helped it attain a wide release in theaters, but keep in mind that this isn't a movie you want to watch on your computer or on DVD, for that matter. A film like this requires the kind of chills that can only be achieved through the magic of a true cinematic environment.