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Paranormal Activity (Blu-ray)
Paramount Home Entertainment / 2009 / 86 Minutes / Rated R
Street Date: December 29, 2009
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
What is considered proper and polite concerning full disclosure? During what date is it considered appropriate timing to disclose any health concerns, past sexual adventures (or misadventures) that may be considered taboo, abuse, or the fact that one has a stalker of sorts? Answers will vary from person to person, but if you throw in the supernatural, when is too late really too late?
In my eyes, any time later than immediately. Call me intolerant, but I'm not one who believes in ghosts, angels, demons, UFO's, leprechauns, or bigfoot, and I somewhat expect any rational person I am to be around to have similar beliefs. Elitism under the guise of compatibility concerns, perhaps, but in my eyes, anyone who believes in demons is also likely to wake up one day from some bizarre dream, believe I'm a demon, and stab me forty seven times in my sleep before running off and marrying the family pet.
Micah Sloat (played by Micah Sloat) didn't screen his match.com mates too carefully, as his live-in girlfriend, the woman he's engaged to be engaged to, Katie Featherston (as played by Katie Featherston, a superb bit of casting), has a history of sorts. No, it has nothing to do with the entire varsity football team. It involves 'Paranormal Activity.' In three houses where Katie has lived, odd things have happened, with shadowy figures appearing and whispering to her, making noises, and even burning one of the houses down. This unnamed demon (who, for the sake of convenience, I'll call Sarah) doesn't much like Micah's presence in Katie's life, it seems, and the frequency of occurrences in their San Diego home has increased dramatically.
The couple have begun to carry around a camera in an attempt to document these strange instances, to see if they can see what is causing them, and find out if they can do anything about it. From what happens, it appears that Sarah isn't much of an exhibitionist, as the "hauntings" escalate to horrifically frightening levels. Foolish machismo, unbridled fear, and the curiosity of that which cannot be seen are not a good combination, as Katie and Micah will find out...
Paramount's wunderkind film has been marketed, and made, in an attempt to lead viewers to believe that the events depicted are real, very much like the film most often compared to 'Paranormal Activity:' 'The Blair Witch Project.' In fact, these two films share many common themes. They are word of mouth juggernauts, raking in ridiculous amounts of box office receipts despite extremely limited budgets ('Paranormal' cost less than $20,000, which is about 1/1000th the amount of money 'Avatar' spent theorizing Na'vi naughty parts). Both are very convincing in their storytelling capabilities, and both also have what I'd consider vastly limited replay value for anyone other than hardcore genre fans.
Oren Peli wrote and directed the film, even filming it in his own home (nice digs, Peli!) in ten days. Ten days, your own house, and enough to buy a new car; given that much money, who else could create anything that would generate over ninety million dollars? Return on investment: massive. What's truly amazing, though, is the fact that the film was made in 2007, but only truly saw the light of day in 2009. Normally any delay in release is a sign of studio trepidation, but it feels more like an extended delay to build tension and anticipation, to properly market and release the film, rather than just throw it out to the wolves to recoup any investment.
As much as I enjoy the horror genre, I don't see 'Paranormal Activity' having lasting appeal; rather, it seems more a flash in the pan, a "moment" in cinema, meant to be experienced and learned from, but destined to be forgotten within a year when the next big "it" film comes out. The manner in which we are supposed to believe what we are seeing is real is so overdone that it brings down its own house of cards. The film opens with a screen thanking the families of Sloat and Featherston, and the San Diego Police Department, as if the material filmed were magically edited and released by the cops. Since the final product is edited, with many gaps in coverage and fast forwards, including cuts in the middle of conversations, it's hard to believe it was made on the spot by Katie and Micah, so who else would edit it? Why would they edit the massive (the film takes place over the period of three weeks) amount of footage and compile random arguments in the final cut? The acting is top notch, in that there is no real hamming it up, or false hysteria, and the characters look very much like the normal couple next door, but their utter lack of logic is so dumbfounding that they can only be feasibly described as the stereotypical couple in the midst of a slasher movie.
The film does portray the human reaction to the unexplainable in a superb manner, though. The way that Micah reacts to the entire situation is worth the watch alone, as his character experiences the most change, going from trying to induce attacks and occurrences, to being genuinely disturbed and fearful of some of the events he provoked. The interactions between Micah and Katie are believable, from their first moments breaking in a new camera (including the solicitation for extracurricular activity), to their growing frustration at each other caused by their fears due to Sarah's increasing presence. The feeling of hopelessness in fighting something that most would scoff at is understandable, though I cannot for the life of me understand why they don't actively seek out more help, as many films involving possessions and demons do. They fear they'll only anger the beast...but it's not like they're soothing it, either!
'Paranormal Activities' can be tense, with a few legitimate big scares (and, honestly, it may be one of the scarier films I've seen, though nowhere near as effective as '[rec]'), but it also suffers from cliche. For example, nearly every time Sarah appears, its presence is understated by a bass rumble, that grows in intensity to match the furor of the unseen beast. There is no bass in the film otherwise. It's hard to be really shocked when one knows something is about to happen, even if they prolong and delay the scenes to try to catch the viewer off guard. By the time the film was over, I was half-way certain that this couple had a possessed subwoofer more than they had a demon. The demon is mostly after Katie, as it has followed her through life, but it grows angry (or jealous) at Micah. Why does it not fuck with Micah's computer, through which he does his day trading? Why doesn't it screech and boom randomly to the point that its target has a heart attack or other stress-induced illness?
For each of its faults, 'Paranormal Activity' counters with bits of shining redemption. Unlike 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose,' there is no silly explanation, or magic evil time in the night in which demons come out, as Sarah shows she is an equal opportunity time slot terrorizer. There is no stunning reveal, as the unseen is vastly more effective than something concrete and visible. There are no jump scares, fake ones involving cats or neighbor kids, just the real deal. There isn't even a real religious undertone, where characters go out of their way to invite clergy to attempt to save themselves. Cliche isn't the norm, and I'm thankful for that. Almost as thankful as I am that I don't have a single inch of wooden flooring after watching this film. While I can only wonder if 'Paranormal Activity' would have worked if Micah and Katie had thick shag carpeting, I can be certain that the elements are in their right places for an effective horror film, regardless of whether it is capable of surviving outside of its own brief window in film history.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Paranormal Activity' comes to Blu-ray from Paramount on a Region A locked BD25 Single Layer Disc. There is no real menu, or pre-menu trailers; just the choice of what cut of the film to watch. There is, however, a menu of sorts after the film ends, with a few choices for supplements, and a set-up guide. Normally set-ups are best detailed before one watches the film, but whatever.
'28 Days Later,' 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: A Very Sunny Christmas,' 'Gulliver's Travels,' and 'Paranormal Activity.' What do these films have in common? They're all on Blu-ray, yeah, that's one thing. The other? They all look terrible on Blu-ray.
Filmed with a Sony FX1 camera, 'Paranormal Activity' isn't meant to have a high def sheen, or gloss. It isn't supposed to leap off the screen (the leaping is the viewer's responsibility, a few times in the film). In a matter true to the concept of the film itself, it's rough, with a homemade feeling, and in keeping with any UFO or ghost sighting, sometimes out of focus, blurry, or flat ugly. Convenient!
"You're worthless. You got nothin'!"
Tell 'em, Micah. The AVC MPEG-4 (1080P, 1.85:1) encode features, to put it in scientific terms, a honking assload of artifacts, banding thicker than actors' heads, motion blur, blocking, harsh lighting from a camera negating opportunities for detail to shine, chroma fringing, shameful delineation, off skin tones, footage quality that can drop in quality considerably from shot to shot, and has a difficult time displaying clarity, partially due to the shaky camera work. On the bright side, edges are fantastic and natural, and there don't appear to be any signs of digital tampering of any sort. Colors are quite bold and natural. The whole affair can almost be summed up by saying daytime shots look quite solid, while any moment in the night is ghastly, ghastly, ghastly.
But, if that's the intent of the film, much like '28 Days Later,' it won't get a bottom of the barrel score. Staying true to one's source is important, and ugly as it is, this is how 'Paranormal Activity' is supposed to look.
'Paranormal Activity' gets an inactive (shoot me) DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that really doesn't get all that much of a souped up high def presence, either. Sure, it's lossless, and all (while the theatrical version includes a lossy 5.1 Spanish dub), but there really isn't much to lose in the first place.
The film plays to the notion that it was and is a real occurrence, so having some massively souped up audio track that tests the limits of what home theatre can provide would be out of place. Dialogue has distinct differences in clarity and volume depending on a character's range to the camera, and can, easily, be overpowered by any nearer presence. This not-so-subtle nuance replicates a realistic feel convincingly. Rear speakers are about as active as character logic in the film, so don't expect much of anything. The highlight of this track is the low end, as you can literally feel the footsteps of the demon, while the ominous bass levels whenever it is present genuinely add to the spook factor. The loud crash in the film can be utterly scary, depending on the level one plays the film at. 'Paranormal Activity' is the kind of film that operates better on silence rather than noise, and the pitch quiet mute scenes are very effective.
While hardly a marvelous track, what is heard feels authentic to the film, and deserves kudos in that respect, even if the score for the audio doesn't exactly scream praise.
It appears the Woody Allen route was taken, letting the film stand by itself, and speak for itself. Also, the more behind the scenes content or commentaries there are, the less one believes they're watching reality.
- Isolated Endings (HD, 5 min) - Since you can view the film with either ending from the main "menu," once the film is done, you can choose to view either version of the film again (why!??!), or view each ending by its lonesome. The alternate ending is a different take on night 21, and runs a full five minutes.
- Shutter Island Trailer (HD, 2 min) - What better time to hype an upcoming psychological drama than to shell-shocked viewers?!?! While 'Shutter Island' has nothing to do with 'Paranormal Activity,' this is the trailer we get, no 'Paranormal' trailer to be found.
- Digital Copy - Compatible with both Mac and Windows, a digital copy of the film is included on the second disc.
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'Paranormal Activity' is hardly the normal horror film. It doesn't force itself into convention, it doesn't pander, and it doesn't bow to cliche in revealing its supernatural villain. Disguised as reality, the film may be amazingly effective if one truly believes they're watching the truth, because it is fairly damn effective even when one distances themselves and knows it's nothing but smart fiction. This Blu-ray release never had much of a chance, in terms of quality, but it brings what little is there as clearly and cleanly as it can. Supplements included are minimal. With such a minimal release, one would have hoped a catalog MSRP would have been in the cards, so with that in mind, this release is only recommended to the horror junkies out there, as replay will bring that high price down. If one can find replay value, that is.
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