The Anticipatory Dread Effect of Paranormal Activity

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When my nephews first approached me a few years ago after having first seen Paranormal Activity, they were literally terrified of the subject matter.  Not the film, per se, but the idea that someone (or some thing) might be watching them when they sleep.  The fear is not without grounds, although, as far as I can surmise, no recognized phobia yet exists for it.  Should it?  After all, sleep is a time of particular vulnerability.  A time when we are neither here nor there.  A time when secret things happen because no one is there to see them.

Director Oren Peli, having spent his entire life afraid of ghosts, said this: “If something is lurking in your home there’s not much you can do about it.”

It’s a primal thing.  If it doesn’t bother you, and you (like me) don’t subscribe to the existence of demonsParanormal Activity is going to be a snore.  There are long periods of time where nothing is going on except the director’s attempts to ratchet up the tension.  This technique is effective if not a little exhausting.  There’s only so much time a human being can spend in a state of anticipatory dread.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m particularly harsh on films claiming to depict, or be based on, “true events”.  Even though it does not expressly say it’s based on true events, Paranormal Activity falls into this category thanks to the use of found footage to emulate the vibe of a documentary.  This would be fine if the film didn’t attract a certain contingent of film goers believing the film to be a kind of proof of the existence of ghosts and demons.  This makes the film Paranormal Activity one of the most insidious (and, make-your-head-explode profitable) films of this nature yet made.

Paranormal Activity focuses on a young couple, Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah, who are settling into a home and trying to have a life together.  When things start going bump in the night, Micah (Micah Sloat) decides to use a video camera in hopes of gathering proof and potentially, some answers.  After the incidents become more frequent, Katie consults a psychic, Dr. Fredrichs (Mark Fredrichs) who tells her the thing in the house is not a ghost.  It’s a demon.  And what’s bad about that is it’s attached to Katie, not the house.  So, basically, there’s no sense in running.  It’ll just follow you.

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On and off for the remainder of the film, Katie begs to leave the house.  Wouldn’t you?

As the incidents become more harrowing, and the couple are now able to, in the bright light of day, watch the previous nights’ events unfold before their eyes, Micah decides to try to communicate with the demon via Ouija board.  He has been expressly told not to, first by Dr. Fredrichs and then by his pleading girlfriend, both of whom fear it will invite the demon in.

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And, by all accounts, it does.  One night, after Katie and Micah have left the house for a rare night out, the board catches fire.  After this, it’s game on for the demon who makes no qualms when it comes to expressing its hostility toward Micah.

Unable to escape the sometimes maliciously slanted torments of the demon, Katie slowly unravels.  Exhausted, terrified, and feeling hopeless, Katie begs to leave the house knowing full well it will do little to deter her tormentor.

Filmed in the director’s home and completed for about $15K, film goers rewarded Paramount Pictures with an astounding $193M in ticket sales proving yet again that people just really like being scared.  Me too!  Otherwise I wouldn’t be going through the Boston.com Top 50 Scariest Movies of All Time list film by film. This film, by the way, ranks 43rd.

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And although Paranormal Activity isn’t my piece of cake, there’s plenty going on here to make it a worthwhile film.  Paranormal?  Maybe not so much.  Supernatural?  Definitely.  Although, Supernatural Activity isn’t that catchy.

Katie Featherston’s performance, for example, is nothing short of perfection in this particular scenario, in this particular film.  Hell, even the moments when I was sitting there keenly aware of the fact that I wasn’t buying the film’s premise, I could still buy Featherston as a terrified college student looking for a little peace (and sleep).

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Published by C. L. Taylor

C.L. is a BIPOC, LGBTQ+ artist & writer who pushes pixels and slings ink in her 9 to 5. She's a content producer's content producer, who's ready, willing, and able to throw down anything from illustration to animation, UI/UX design, and copy. If you want it to sparkle, evoke, or convey a story, chances are C. L. can help! Her short fiction has earned first place in category and honorable mentions in the NYCMidnight short story, micro fiction, and flash fiction contests, and has appeared in Typehouse Literary Magazine, Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal, and anthologies by Brisk Publications and Alyson Publications. Her poetry will appear in the upcoming October issue of Versification. In her spare time, C. L. chases mindfulness and often falls asleep in savasana pose. You can catch up with her on Twitter: @ctaylor and Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cltaylor_writer/

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