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After a young, middle class couple moves into what seems like a typical suburban "starter" tract house, they become increasingly disturbed by a presence that may or may not be demonic, but is certainly most active in the middle of the night. Especially when they sleep. Or try to.
For more about Paranormal Activity and the Paranormal Activity Blu-ray release, see Paranormal Activity Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on December 30, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat
Director: Oren Peli
» See full cast & crew
Paranormal Activity Blu-ray Review
Is the hype warranted?
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, December 30, 2009
You cannot run from this.
Sometimes, big things come in small packages. Paranormal Activity, the latest micro-budget film to make it big, is a one-trick cinematic pony that lacks the glitz and glamour of its high-dollar brethren but beats out many of its contemporaries where it counts the most: simple know-how. With a reported budget that couldn't even buy a base model 2010 Ford Focus and a cast and crew list that reads like a random collection of names rather than Hollywood regulars, Paranormal Activity went on to earn well over $100,000,000 at the domestic box office and became the surprise word-of-mouth hit of the year. In fact, this is probably one of the best movies, dollar for dollar, of all time, though it still doesn't beat out El Mariachi and its $7,000 budget. Still, first-time Director Oren Peli gets the most out of his movie with a home camera, a few actors, one set, and plenty of spine-tingling tension. It's not a perfect movie, but Paranormal Activity is an amazing experience all things considered, a true "little engine that could" sort of fairy tale that proves once and for all that name stars, big special effects, and fancy production values rarely make up for the absence of plot and smartly-crafted storytelling.
Micah (Micah Sloat) has purchased a home video camera in hopes of substantiating the claims and capturing footage of the hauntings his live-in girlfriend Katie (Katie Featherston) has been experiencing since childhood. An ever-present addition to their lives, the camera documents their every move, both during the daytime and, more importantly, as they sleep at night. In addition to the camera, the couple hires a psychic (Mark Fredrichs) who confirms the presence of a demon in the house. As the days turn to weeks, random and seemingly inconsequential occurrences -- keys found on the floor or a door that moves by itself -- turn into far more frightening encounters with the supposed demon, each night becoming more terrifying and every new experience furthering the divide that's threatening the stability of Micah's and Katie's strained relationship. With both at wits end and frightened of the unknown, it seems only inevitable that somehow, someway, the paranormal activity that's come to define the couple's life will eventually tear them apart.
What is Paranormal Activity? Is it a byproduct of a generation drawn to reality voyeurism? An effort to inject some much-needed verve into the Horror genre? A wannabe copycat of the none-too-scary The Blair Witch Project? A combination of the three? Or something else entirely? Whatever it is and whatever the filmmakers had in mind, there's no denying that the film's strengths -- which includes an absurdly simple yet strongly-realized plot -- far outweigh the various technical shortcomings. In fact, there's not really any one time in the movie where it seems distractingly lacking in any one technical area. From the poor picture quality to the garbled sound, it all fits in with the established tone and voyeuristic feel of the movie, the viewer easily and readily accepting the film's style and limited technical expertise as merely a part of the surprisingly engaging story. In fact, Paranormal Activity makes filmmaking -- or better said here shooting video -- the center of attention. The camera is a primary character in the film; not only is it a de facto audience member -- seeing and hearing only what the audience sees and hears -- but it's also central to the story, a point of contention between the characters, and a constant that's often made an integral object in the story, whether in unraveling the secrets behind the "paranormal activity" or serving as a mere documenting tool for some future endeavor.
The film's drawbacks, then, are few and forgivable. As movies of this sort go, it never feels particularly real. In comparison to something like Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity somehow feels a bit staged and phony, but the movie doesn't necessarily suffer as a result. Cloverfield's bigger budget and more expansive story allowed it to create an entire world -- rather than a single home and a pair of minds -- that finds itself in the midst of chaos captured via amateur home video, a far broader and more complex endeavor than that found in Paranormal Activity. Additionally, the film suffers because its primary characters aren't particularly likable. Vulgar, goofy, and argumentative, the script attempts to slowly paint them as becoming more and more irritable with both the situation and with one another, and ultimately turn that irritability into paranoia. It works well enough, but in the process the characters seem more like cobbled-together shells that lack much in the way of soul and spirit, but again, not necessarily to the detriment of the film's overall feel. Indeed, neither problem seems the least bit of a hindrance to Paranormal Activity's greatest strengths: anticipation and fear of the unknown. With every nighttime scene comes a feeling of dread, like the deadly silence is consistently on the verge of exploding into sheer terror, and whether it comes or not, it's the calm and not necessarily the storm that sells the terror of the story. Creaking floorboards, loud crashes, moving sheets, or cracked pictures just don't compete with the sheer terror of the mysteries behind them and the anticipation of what may or may not be lurking in the shadows.
Paranormal Activity Blu-ray, Video Quality
Paranormal Activity features a 1080p, 1.78:1 transfer that's ugly but also true to the source. Despite its meager looks, it's important to recognize that Blu-ray is not some magic disc that will make everything look like Cars; the format's strength lies in its ability to reproduce the source material closely to the original, and Paranormal Activity's inherent constraints are no fault of Blu-ray or Paramount's 1080p transfer. The Blu-ray simply reproduces the source material here, and all of its flaws -- banding, soft corners, dim colors, and smeary details -- are reflective of the (relatively) low-grade original master. Nevertheless, the subpar appearance only adds to the effectiveness of the film; the lack of noticeable production values and overall amateur feel -- reflected in the prosumer-grade equipment used in the film -- only reinforce the film's best attributes. Suffice it to say, the image on display is accurate to the source but not at all a shining example of what Blu-ray is capable of. Viewers that understand that it's the limitations of the source and not the format or Paramount's transfer that's the culprit here will appreciate the film and its Blu-ray counterpart all the more.
Paranormal Activity Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Paramount scares up a DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack that's reflective of the limited sound design employed by Paranormal Activity. The track rarely moves past the supposed limitations of the source. Unlike Cloverfield, sound isn't heightened for dramatic effect. Muddled and boomy dialogue sounds as if its taken straight from the initial recording, not remixed in a studio. Background music and sound effects as heard throughout the film -- for example a piece of music that plays through computer speakers -- sounds filtered and undefined, just as one might expect of a playback of a secondarily-recorded piece of music. The track's dialogue and sound effects primarily remain focused in the middle part of the front soundstage, but Paranormal Activity does employ a fair amount of bass that's perhaps a bit more precise than would otherwise be expected, but it's not overplayed to an extent that it comes across as phony or added into the film after the fact. The low end is supportive and tense, but not overbearing. It will subtly rattle the room, but not threaten to tear it apart. Listeners hoping for something along the lines of Star Trek or Terminator Salvation might be disappointed with what Paranormal Activity's soundtrack has to offer, but it must be considered -- and rated accordingly -- in the context of its limited source material.
Paranormal Activity Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Paranormal Activity comes with but minor extras. Disc one features both the theatrical cut of the film as well as the version with an alternate ending (both coming in at 86 minutes in length). Both the theatrical and alternate endings are also included separately (1080p, 5:11 each), and the disc also features a trailer for Shutter Island (1080p, 2:24). Disc two of this set contains a digital copy of Paranormal Activity. Sampled on a second-generation iPod Touch, the video quality looks terrible, with severe banding and blocking in most every shot, not to mention the array of issues that plague even the Blu-ray, including soft edges and a general lack of even moderate detail. The soundtrack, too, is terribly basic, with little sense of space and minimal power on the low end.
Paranormal Activity Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
It's amazing what a good story and a bit of talent can do. Overcoming what seems the biggest hurdle in Hollywood today -- money -- and delivering a movie that was not only a surprise and justifiable smash hit but a worthwhile project and a solid entry into the annals of Horror filmmaking, Paranormal Activity proves two things: that story comes first, and audiences will still spend their hard-earned money on a good movie, regardless of its budget, cast, crew, special effects, or in this case, lack thereof. Certainly, there are big-budget, large-scale effects films that do take the time to weave a strong story, but Paranormal Activity recalls a time when a movie had to rely almost absolutely on its own merits and not the technical expertise of a detached team of computer graphic specialists to dazzle audiences. No doubt there's bound to be a rash of copycat films that likely won't be as good as this in an effort to cash in on the low-risk, high-reward potential, but maybe one of them will be yet another diamond in the rough. Paramount's Blu-ray release of Paranormal Activity offers technical presentations that aren't impressive but are reflective of the movie's built-in limitations. Where this release truly stumbles is in the absence of special features. Offering but a second cut of the film with an alternate ending and a digital copy, fans are likely to be less than enthused about this package. Recommended as a rental first and foremost until the price drops to a level that's more on par with a practically featureless release.
Paranormal Activity: Other Editions
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• Paranormal Activity 3 Blu-ray - December 20, 2011
Next year, Paramount Home Entertainment will bring Paranormal Activity 3 to Blu-ray. Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Catfish), this installment in the horror franchise examines footage from 1988 that reveals the beginning of the supernatural disturbances ...
• Paranormal Activity 2 Announced on Blu-ray - December 21, 2010
Paramount Home Entertainment has announced Paranormal Activity 2 for Blu-ray release on February 8, 2011, in a BD/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack. This "chillingly realistic" prequel to 2009's sleeper hit Paranormal Activity will be presented both in its original theatrical ...
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