The horror movies that I enjoy seeing fall into the suspense category, with a supernatural element to it. Movies like Poltergeist, The Sixth Sense, and The Others are generally the kinds of "scary / suspense" that I gravitate towards. I love the movies that really get into your psyche and plays with your mind. What's unseen is far scarier than a lunatic running around with a hockey mask on and killing copulating teenagers.
I've heard very little about Paranormal Activity, thus was unsure if it would be worth the $10.50 ticket price. However, I also have a free movie ticket that I got through my Regal Cinema card. I decided to use that for this film so I wouldn't feel like I wasted my money if I didn't like the movie. I still plan to see Amelia, and even if its dull, I still appreciate the inspirational power of a biopic.
So, what is Paranormal Activity? Its in the tradition of The Blair Witch Project, which I did not see (a huge hit in 1998 or 1999) and was made for a mere $11,000! It had a limited release to build word of mouth among audiences and create a good buzz before getting a wide release last week where it blew away the nearest competition (that would be the latest installment of the Saw series). It made $22 million! Not bad for an $11,000 investment! The other thing that I learned about it was that this film was submitted to the major studios. Paramount bought it and wanted to "remake" it with actual actors. Even Steven Spielberg was interested and there were some news about an alternate ending.
This is the kind of movie where I had to read several reviews before deciding if I wanted to see it. All the reviews I've read were kind of cryptic about the details. All I knew was that many reviewers were calling this film "one of the scariest movies ever made!" and that the intensity only grows as the movie goes on. Some reviewers mentioned that this is the kind of film that one must see in a theater, just for the audience reaction. That claim sold it for me, otherwise I would've waited until DVD. But, if audience reaction was one of the things that enhances the viewing experience, waiting until DVD was no good.
The early scenes of the movie had me questioning my decision. The shaky handheld camera and the chattiness of the couple's mundane domestic routine was kind of dull. But I found myself liking the film as it went along. I even liked the couple and their silly little arguments (Micah is always getting in trouble with his girlfriend). It really shows the kind of daily details of living together that movies rarely show. In fact, I could not tell if this was actually a movie or a homemade documentary.
The chilling scenes come at night, while the couple are sleeping. A time counter on the right side of the screen sometimes speeds up to get to the spookiest parts in the wee hours of morning (between 2 and 4 a.m.). The spooks start off pretty simple enough: the door moving out of the blue; loud banging sounds; footsteps on the stairs; blankets being moved; lights turning off and on; etc. The intensity only grows during each night's footage. Some moments were just so creepy that I felt goose bumps all over my body and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up straight. This was truly terrifying for me and it just doesn't let up. I was so taken in by the realism of this that I was certain that it was an actual documentary and not a movie.
So, is it or isn't it a documentary? Without giving anything away, there were a couple of moments throughout the film that led me to think it might be. By the ending, you'll know which it is. And the audience reaction? Awesome! I saw a few people jump in their seats, blurt out some comment or shriek, and even laughter at some of the more ridiculous moments.
The couple (Micah and Katie) are pretty fun to watch together. Micah is a typical guy, as he pooh-poohs the whole "psychic" thing when Katie consults with an actual psychic about her experience of having a particular "entity" follow her from house to house. The psychic tells the couple that the entity "feeds off of negative energy." I laughed at that line, because it only reminded me of the two most negative ladies I know at work. I wish an entity would attach themselves to them to partake in their negativity. Micah's joking around only seems to make Katie mad. At one point, he's banished from the bedroom (when she ordered him out, I couldn't help but think..."is she crazy?" With a ghostly presence haunting the hallways at night, why would anyone want to sleep alone in that house?).
When the film ended, it was one of the rare occasions where the audience didn't jump up to leave. They remained in their seats, laughing and talking about the experience of watching this film. I was frozen in my seat. Not because of some fear-induced panic, but because the ending was kind of disappointing to me. No wonder why Spielberg supposedly wanted a new ending.
Some reviews I read mention that the horror of the film does not remain in the theater. It stays in your mind when you try to go to sleep at night. That's when your own imagination takes over. Since I'm blogging this after I had seen the movie, I haven't gone to bed yet to see if I will be thinking about this movie as I try to fall asleep.
I can tell you one thing, though. Throughout this decade, I've had my own terrifying experience in the wee hours of morning. It hasn't happened in a couple years (thank God!) but occasionally, I would experience what some call "sleep paralysis," "night terrors," or "sudden unexplained nocturnal death syndrome" (SUNDS). I've read the definition of each and don't agree with the scientific conclusions. Basically, the scientific conclusions don't match my experience. What is "sleep paralysis"? According to scientists, when coming out of a dream state, the body is paralyzed for a minute or two. This "paralysis" during dream state is meant to keep our bodies from acting out scenes in the dream. It makes sense, but it doesn't explain the experience I had.
So, what was this experience? Well, I remember each time it happened, I was truly terrified. It always happened the same way. I felt a strong negative energy vibration hovering above my body, as though it was trying to enter me. I also could not move and I felt a hand over my mouth and nose as though this negative energy vibrational energy was trying to snuff the life out of me. There was a rushing sound in my ear, much louder and more intense than the sound you hear when you put a seashell next to your ear. This feeling did not go away at all. Each time it happened, I immediately awoke and the internal voice I heard in my head was to pray to God. Once I did, I felt resistance as though this energy vibration was fighting against something, even though it did not want to let go of me, until suddenly, I was able to move again and the energy was gone. Calm like the eye of a hurricane.
What does that mean? I could believe the scientific explanation if the energy vibration was internal, but it wasn't. It truly felt as though some energy was trying to move into my body. I don't know if this is how demon possession happens or what. It truly is a terrifying experience (I think it would actually make a great horror film, if only I could come up with a good storyline to write the script). Once, when it happened, I immediately prayed to God and heard this in my head: "This is the blood of Christ to protect you." As I heard that, I had the sensation of feeling as though a warm liquid was covering my body from the head downward until I was fully encased in this "good vibrational energy" to prevent the negative energy from penetrating me. This experience was truly weird for me and could not have originated within my own psyche because I don't believe in Jesus's blood being a magic elixir to protect us. I find that (and the symbology behind communion) to be obscene. But it worked.
I wish I kept a better journal about those experiences because I don't know when they happened or what was going on in my life at the time. As I wrote above, I haven't experienced a "night terror" in several years now. I hope I never do, because whenever it happened, I felt like I was fighting for my life. What might happen if I don't fight it? According to what I read about SUNDS, my experience is quite common among the Hmong of Laos. It usually happens to young men in that ethnic group and the result is that they die in their sleep of unexplained causes. These are healthy young men. The mystery has baffled those who have looked at the phenomenon.
You might be wondering what my theory might be on SUNDS, sleep paralysis, night terrors. Well, it's a mystery to me. If there was an evil energy trying to enter my body, I have no idea why. It did seem to occur when I had a sense of mission about my life, when I was feeling good about my life and what I wanted to do.
Maybe the reason why it hasn't happened is because I've been pretty much depressed for the past couple of years about being stuck in a job I hate. I've heard stories from the more evangelical members of my church about stuff like this happening to them. They attribute it to Satan trying to prevent you from doing God's work. Since I don't believe Satan exists (but I believe evil exists), I obviously have a different take. But, we'll never know the real truth of any unexplainable phenomenon until we're in the spiritual realm and get all the good "behind the scenes" information about our lives. Until then, all we can do is speculate and develop theories based on logic and experience that might help explain a little bit about why things happen.
So, if you want a good scare this Halloween...go see Paranormal Activity!