Can ‘Paranormal Activity’ save the horror genre?
Shane Steinburg | Tuesday, October 13, 2009
If you’ve seen the trailers and kept up with the hoopla at all, then chances are you’ve either gone online and demanded that “Paranormal Activity” be nationally released so you can get what has been billed as the scare of your life, or you’ve been shaken enough by the film’s incredibly eerie trailer to decide that this isn’t the film for you.
Filmed with a miniscule budget of only $11,000 and starring two literally unknown actors, “Paranormal Activity” is the story of a young couple, Micah and Katie, who become increasingly disturbed by an unknown presence in their new house.
The film is shot entirely from a handheld camera worked by Micah, who rashly takes on the task of setting up a tripod in the couple’s bedroom and filming the couple while they sleep to see what’s really going on. It has drawn many comparisons to “The Blair Witch Project” for its style, its marketing campaign and even the false rumors surrounding its truth.
What is notable here is that this film is different from what has been out in theaters and has been billed as “horror” ever since its near-identical but unrelated twin, “The Blair Witch Project,” was released 10 years ago. Despite being a ghost story, it holds the kind of believability and manifests itself in a kind of eeriness that has long been gone from theaters. The key is that “Paranormal Activity” delivers on an audience level in much the same way that “The Blair Witch Project” did, capturing the fear of the actors but doing it so realistically that the threshold between reality and film is crossed.
As part of its brilliant viral marketing campaign, the film’s producers urged moviegoers to log onto ParanormalMovie.com and demand that the film play in their city. After nearly two weeks of sold out midnight showings in limited release, a resounding 1,000,000 people had demanded a wider release for the film. As a result, Paramount Pictures will release the film nationwide beginning Friday.
So will the horror genre be saved on Oct. 16? Does it even need saving?
I’ll ask you this: When was the last time that a horror film has actually been “scary?” And what exactly is it that makes a horror film “scary?” Is it pop-outs, oversized mute serial killers and gore piled on top of what is probably already an excessive amount of gore?
Unfortunately, that is what the genre has become: a gorefest of predictability that lacks any semblance of intrigue, cleverness, believability or staying power. “Horrifying” somehow got mixed up with “disgusting,” and the success of films like the original “Saw” was misinterpreted so that gore and gut-churning “horror” became the new name of the game. The horror film industry has become nothing more than a misguided, financially dead vestige that is no longer made up of “horror films” but of “horrible (I wouldn’t even call them) films.”
Scary movies are supposed to send shivers down your spine, put you in the shoes of the characters in peril and make you feel every bit of the terror that they feel. Truly excellent horror films can delve so deeply into your mind that you’re horrified long after the end credits roll. You might be afraid to take a shower after watching “Psycho,” terrified to go into the open water after seeing “Jaws,” or deathly frightened of camping in the woods after seeing “Blair Witch.”
That’s the essence of horror films, and that’s exactly what the genre has been lacking for all this time, minus very few exceptions.
At first and even second glance, “Paranormal Activity” seems to possess the kind of rawness and primal potency rarely found in horror films, and that makes it mightily intriguing. This seems to be the first film actually deserving of being called a horror film probably since “The Blair Witch Project,” which is sad to say that it has taken this long.
Perhaps it is nothing more than an incredibly well-marketed, Internet-driven, over-glorified, YouTube-hyped video, and some preliminary critic reviews suggest just as much. Judging from what’s out there, though, “Paranormal Activity” seems to be the movie destined to remind us all that mental suggestion has as much power as a chainsaw cutting off a face.