Thursday, November 5, 2009

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (Oren Peli, 2009, USA) Micah struggles for possession of his girlfriend, his ego exacerbated by the camera’s lens, while Katie is slowly consumed by the presence of two fiends: one flesh & blood and the other inhuman. Director Oren Peli uses the standard horror conventions to create a tableau of domestic terrorism, as a young woman is emotionally battered by her boyfriend and stalked by a demonic presence. Filmed in the first person without credits or soundtrack, introduced with a brief acknowledgement of the survivor’s family, Peli seeks to transform a fictional narrative into reality by not severing the audience’s suspension of disbelief. The film is entertaining though it fails to sustain its burden by breaking its own unwritten vow: what could have been a chilling ending is reduced to trite shock tactics and needless explanation. The sheer terror is hidden in the minor occurrences; knockings and footsteps at night, an eerie shadow or soft whisper, or the flicking of lights. We are experiencing the film in real time and are sure that these things cannot be naturally explained, so we expect the bogeyman around every corner. Even a back story concerning Katie’s childhood births the frisson necessary to keep our attention, our imagination racing like a wild pulse, but it’s when Peli must objectively show us the evidence that the illusion becomes a thin ghostly vapor. I think there is a legitimate subtext in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY regarding domestic violence, the all-to-real demon of power and control. Micah sees Katie as an object to own and place in his house; he isn’t as concerned with her welfare as he is in guarding his possession. He is threatened by another force for control of Katie who is torn between the two, a woman whose choice has been exorcized and like any battered woman can’t run away because the abuser will only follow. Micah mugs for the camera, his Cheshire cat persona dominating while Katie is relegated to a subjective pronoun. He lies and breaks his promises then blames her when violence is their domestic equation’s sum total. Their relationship disintegrates within the three weeks of activity but it seems to be on that long road to nowhere, reflected in the scene with the psychic when Micah says “We’re engaged to be engaged”: obviously a reference to his unwillingness to commit. Katie begs him to contact the Demonologist or turn off the camera but only HE knows what’s best for her…and it leads to murder. A modicum of horror homage adds spice to this delectable stew with references to both POLTERGEIST and PSYCHO (with MONTY PYTHON’S HOLY GRAIL thrown in for good measure). The fear is in the things not seen or understood, and Peli begins to show us the monster lurking under the bed…but we’ve all seen that creature feature before. (C)

1 comment:

Alex DeLarge said...

I learned last night that the theatrical version is not the original ending! A friend described the alternate ending and it was much much better (in my mind's eye) than the version released. When this is released on disc, I hope the film can be viewed with this original ending: I may change my grade to a solid B. I think the finale is the weakest link in the narrative chain, so anxiously awaiting a second screening in the Korova:)