Paranormal Activity DVD Review

by | Dec 31st, 2009 | 2:00AM | Filed under: DVD Reviews

ParanormalActivity_2938 A good horror film is like a good joke, or a good magic trick; first, the story being told is almost always designed not just to distract but to divert, to focus your attention elsewhere while the punchline — or poltergeist — comes out of nowhere. Second, the more you explain it, the less enjoyable it is; we want to be fooled, and telling us how we've been fooled always negates some, if not all, of that pleasure. And with that, the people who make horror DVDs have a careful balancing act — if DVDs made for anything, it's for explaining (and, for that matter, over-explaining) films.

Paranormal Activity, Oren Pelli's writing-directing debut, was a sensation in theaters, backed by a carefully-calculated marketing campaign so carefully designed to look natural it was more Astroturf than grassroots. As Locke pointed out in his theatrical review of the film here at redblog, it was a piece of showmanship that P.T. Barnum would have been proud of, a calibrated series of slow rollouts designed to build buzz with a series of midnight screenings that made the buzz into a roar. But how does Paranormal Activity play on DVD? And does the disc over-explain the pleasures of the film?

If you missed Paranormal Activity in theaters, you'll be glad to know the film plays remarkably well on DVD at home; unlike, say, The Thing — which takes place in an Antarctic research station, which we may have a hard time imagining ourselves in — Paranormal Activity takes place all in one normal-looking home, as young couple Micah (Micah Sloat) and Katie (Katie Featherston), frightened by things that go bump in the night in their San Diego home, set up a video camera to see what's going on while they sleep. And this is the nice parallelism of Paranormal Activity on DVD: They're at home, and so are you. They're watching video and getting freaked out, and so are you. Sloat and Featherston are fine actors — I don't know if I'd want to watch them play the lead roles in Hamlet, but they do a good job of improvising and faking naturalism inside Pelli's script and structure, and that counts for a lot.

And, fortunately, the DVD doesn't over-explain the film, or bombard you with making-of material or commentary; instead, you're simply presented with the option to watch the film with its theatrical ending (infamously added at Steven Spielberg's suggestion after the movie-making legend saw the original cut, and liked it, but still offered suggestions for a little punch-up that might make the film better) and watching the film with an alternate ending. Admittedly, once you offer the "alternate ending" option, you're kind of puncturing the big conceit of the film — that this is found footage from real events — but, really, if you still think that the events in Paranormal Activity are some kind of true happening (when the film opened, my personal website's search log showed people looking for "Micah Sloat Katie Featherston Police Report San Diego"), then I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn, and Paramount looks forward to getting more of your money for a sequel.

I hope that at some point Paramount actually drops the whole low-fi marketing approach and gives us a DVD of Paranormal Activity with, say, commentary and some making-of material; as it is, the DVD only has subtitles (English and French and Spanish) and a Spanish-language dubbed soundtrack. The film looks fine — at a certain point, no matter how much mastering and high-tech trickery you throw at it, a $12,000 movie shot on a high-end video camera is going to look like a $12,000 movie shot on a video camera. Paranormal Activity on DVD may not over-explain the tricks and treats the film has to offer, but it also does a great job of presenting them; don't be surprised if you find yourself acutely aware of the sounds and sense of your own house around you in the dark after you turn it off if you watch it too late at night.

184 Responses to “Paranormal Activity DVD Review”

  1. Taron
    Posted on January 9, 2010 at 3:43 am

    Walking my dog is scarier than this film! The editing sucks too, the actors skip around all jittery while saying the same line! If this movie scares you, put the bong down and chill!

  2. joe
    Posted on January 9, 2010 at 7:55 am

    The biggest letdown of the movie was, Katie was pretty chesty and she wore a bra to bed every night. I have never known a woman to wear a bra to bed every night! my wife even noticed that part and made a comment!

  3. Kevin
    Posted on January 9, 2010 at 11:26 am

    So was it the Blair Witch taking over Katie? I kept waiting for at least a startle moment or something to get the action moving but alas no such luck. Very bad movie wish I could get back my 1:40 and $1.00. I hope that eventually people will figure out this genre and quit frequenting these films so there is no money to be made off them and studios will stop making them. Pseudo-reality TV and films just suck.

  4. Ben
    Posted on January 9, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Haven’t seen a good movie since “Taken”. “Paranormal” is not one of them. Can any one make a good movie anymore?

  5. Divya
    Posted on January 9, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    I am SO GLAD to see that I am not the only person who realized what a WASTE OF TIME this movie was!!!! I cannot believe how many glowing reviews I have read about this dreck. Thank Gawd we are not all sheep!

  6. Sue
    Posted on January 10, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    I thought it was scarey. The first half was a little boring but it was worth watching. I liked it and I am NOT usually a fan of that type of filming. The Blair witch movie was AWFUL, I hated it!

  7. Carolyn
    Posted on January 14, 2010 at 1:38 am

    This was acctually a movie that scared me. And I have been trying to find another movie that scared me as much as the 1st nightmare on elm street that I saw when I was a preteen a long long time ago lol. But this one had me holding my chest in anticapation as to what will happen next! I have watched many blood and slasher movies like Hostle and the like and those movies just are all blood and gore, they don’t suprise me or keep me on the edge of my seat like Paranormal Activity did. So if you are a real horror movie buff like I am go get the movie, turn off the lights and watch it and judge for yourself. Don’t listen to all the negative comments. I liked it and I think you will, too.

  8. Sha
    Posted on January 15, 2010 at 3:47 am

    Thank goodness! People with common sense are on this page. Paranormal Activity is a horrible movie. I don’t care what the alternative ending is if it’s just as bad as the rest of the movie. I want my time back.

  9. Crystal
    Posted on January 16, 2010 at 9:34 am

    It wasn’t a bad movie. My husband wasn’t into but I thought it was better than the Blair Witch. It looks like it could have been real – filmed by someone in their home – That’s why I liked it. It relates to people and makes their blood pump if they beleive in ghost!