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Paranormal Activity

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Mark Kermode | 11:45 UK time, Friday, 4 December 2009

Besides being one of the most financially successful movies in history, this year's Paranormal Activity has also picked up a reputation for being one of the scariest. The reactions of some people have been compared to the effect of The Exorcist on audiences way back in 1973. So what am I missing?

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  • Comment number 1.

    It's not just you, Mark. I too wasn't particularly scared by Paranormal Activity, although I admit that there were a couple of nice jumpy moments.

    And I think it's for the same general reason - when you've seen the tricks before, then the shock value is infinitely less. The comparison for me is with the amazing BBC tv drama from 20-odd years agio "Ghostwatch" which used much the same techniques - start out with little things and gradually crank it up. Although that was far more scary because it was presented as a "live" studio show, not as a drama, which a movie can never manage.

    Kudos to the makers for an unexpected break-out success. But I suspect that following it up will be a more difficult proposition.

  • Comment number 2.

    I had exactly the same experience watching the film. While I can appreciate that certain techniques used by the director are impressive given the budget, I was only scared once by the movie (incidentally, this is probably more to do with my irrational fear of attics!).

  • Comment number 3.

    I wasn't frightened by PA, but certainly very unsettled - the house felt a bit creepier that night. I'm pretty certain I felt this way because I let the film affect me - I certainly didn't believe in any of it, but I somehow managed to suppress my cynical side, because I knew that was the only way I'd get anything from the film.

    Incidentally, this is exactly how I felt after the Exorcist - clearly a better film, but I didn't believe in anything going on, so had to try hard to suspend that disbelief. The only film that truly frightens and disturbs me (I couldn't sleep for two nights after seeing it at the cinema) is Mulholland Drive.

  • Comment number 4.

    Usual story. Big budget marketing. Average film.

  • Comment number 5.

    For starters it’s all about how you see the movie. For example I've seen the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre twice and it only scared me once. The first time I saw it was on my own at around two in the morning and that was a terrifying experience. The second time was with someone else, early in the evening and therefore not nearly as scary.

    Also apart from that film the only other films which shocked and terrified me are Eraserhead (more upsetting than scary though) and Blue Velvet, which for some people wouldn't be scary at all so it's all subjective.

    I also think it has a lot to do with hype and popular culture. Maybe you were over hyped about the film and therefore it failed to live up to your expectations. I found the same with The Exorcist because most of the scenes are so iconic that they stand out as famous set pieces, and as a consequence isn’t scary anymore. The scariest moment of The Exorcist is the scene in the attic and nothing happens. In fact I found the third Exorcist movie to be a lot more terrifying as the hospital corridor scene; old people crawling on the ceiling and Brad Douriff's creepy performance give more genuine shock and thrills than anything in the first movie. I know you're going to completely disagree but I don't care.

    There is another argument to be made that horror films don't have to be scary to be great movies. I still think The Exorcist is a great movie despite not being scared by it. Also look at the early works of David Cronenberg; Shivers, Rabid, The Brood, Videodrome, The Fly and The Dead Zone. All horror movies I suppose but none of them are really scary. There seems to be more fascination with the horror rather than an aversion to it and maybe because of this they are some of the best films in the genre.

    One last point; In fact one of the scariest moments in cinema is not from a horror movie at all but from Trainspotting and I think everyone knows what scene I'm talking about.

  • Comment number 6.

    Maybe it works for some people because they fear the effect that genuine paranormal activity in their house would have on the price of it...

  • Comment number 7.

    I enjoyed Paranormal Activity but like you was not scared by it. I was drawn in, engaged and believed in the central couple nevertheless nothing made me genuinely scared. I can however see why it has affected others more so that other horror films. It’s partly down to the static/ real life camera work but even more to do with the concentration on one couple, one house and one bedroom. This is how most of us live and going to sleep each night the same as everybody else in a normal environment gives the audience the realism other films find hard to create. How many of us run through the woods at night or drive a car down an unlit, restricted road.
    The claustrophobic room and halls and repetitive narrative, not knowing when or where this ‘force’ will show itself all adds to the realist energy. Not ever seeing an actual body and making the protagonist do weird things (sleep walking, standing at side of the bed for hours) without out explanation gives the true essence of creepiness. The imagination of the audience is always more frightening than anything a film maker can show us on screen, there job is to simply create an environment and nudge us subtlety into a corner.

  • Comment number 8.

    Paranormal Activity is the only movie, bar one, that i've been scared by the second time round. the first time i watched was with my friend at our school library on the ahem..internet. (a levels? ha!)as it was pre-release we had the original ending, which i thought was sadder, but less unsettling and by the end of it i had the same opinion as you, good but not scary. second time round was in a tiny cinema with about 20 other people who were dead quiet. i went home and spent the night constantly listening for footsteps.

    i guess this would be the argument that it depends where and how you see it but then the only other film where this has happened was, wait for it.. the Exorcist, where the first time was in my dark house alone and the second was in that same library, with the same friend, with the same screaming year 7s nearby. but it was the second viewing which really haunted me. Go figure.

  • Comment number 9.

    Perhaps is should have been called paranoid activity instead, is it just what happens to people after the film that make people think it is scary? i suppose you have to have the kind of imagination that would react to this film in a certain way, the noise the central heating pump has made for the past 30 years is suddenly a vengeful demon from the nether world, or maybe the possibility that it might be.

  • Comment number 10.

    Quite a personal question for you Mark but it is relevant: are you religious at all?

    You see I am not where as I used to be up until my mid teens. It took me four attempts to get through 'The Exorcist' when I was ten years old and it is still to date the scariest and best horror film I have ever seen. I would lie awake considering the possibilities of what I had seen in the film. It wasn't supernatural enough to use the logic "Oh, well there's no such thing". To me as a young Christian, there was such a thing.

    Nowadays, I am a staunch atheist and it scares me no where near as much. It is not to do with me "growing up" and being more fearless either. It is simply because now that is as supernatural as vampires or werewolves. However, 'The Exorcist' is still chilling and amazingly brilliant.

    The same with Paranormal Activity. I do not believe one jot in ghosts or demons or anything of the sort. And I think in England at least there are many more people who believe or are inclined to believe in the paranormal to an extent, than in God. Therefore, this stuff REALLY frightens them. There is a voice in your head saying "But what if it's true," it is just mine is clouted immediately by cold-minded scientific thinking. Some people are less sure.

    I was wondering whether you are similar to me or not?

    With all that said, I do think Paranormal Activity was the best horror film in a long time. It used the Hitchcock formula of what was not on screen scared you. I was as scared watching it as I get by horror films these days, until the ending scene which I won't ruin for others but I thought cheapened the whole experience.

  • Comment number 11.

    I am with MarkoosMuse. I think whether you are religious or not has a lot to do with it. I have been solidly non-religious for most of my life and these things don't scare me as I know they could never happen and if they did there would be a far less scary, scientific reason behind them - aliens, matrix style false reality etc... You might not understand it, but at least you know it could be understood in theory. I know the reaction you are referring to and I experienced it as a naive indoctrinated child, but the only movie in 20 years that came close to giving me that feeling was Final Destination and that lasted all of 5 minutes.

    I guess if you've grown out of religion, you've grown out of this kind of fear. Sorry!

  • Comment number 12.

    A lightbulb blew in my house just before I went to see the film!

    As pathetic as it may sound this excited me as I'm a huge horror fan. Watching the film I kind of let myself go, let my (horror buff) guard down and embraced the film. Whilst it wasn't the scariest film i throughly enjoy getting caught up the whole experience.

  • Comment number 13.

    I'm glad to hear you say that. I'm a fan of horror films, and I was very keen for it to be scary. And while there were a couple of things I admired about it – its self-restraint (it was confident enough to let things build gradually), the central relationship (which I found pretty convincing), and one or two of the tricks when it came to showing actual activity – I wasn't shocked and I wasn't creeped out. Whether it was that it never felt intense enough, or real enough, or different enough, or that the characters didn't seem truly threatened, I don't know. But I needed more of something for it to work for me.

    I'm also not sure that the creepy pulsing/thudding horror noise that alerted you to any coming weirdness was necessary or effective enough to merit that one artificial break with the conceit that this was found footage.

  • Comment number 14.

    ‘What am I missing?’ Youth.

    You’re older than you were when you first saw the Exorcist and many, many horror movies have passed before your gaze, so you're not now as suggestible as you used to be.

  • Comment number 15.

    I was very scared by Paranormal Activity and I think it was for a number of reasons. I am a horror fan but find it much much scarier when we see nothing, and this is the case with Paranormal Activity the nothingness of the demon makes it for me very scary as we cannot clock what the thing looks like, thus leaving our imagination to do most the work. I also believe youth has something to do with it, as the couple are younger I think you have to be of a younger age to fully be invested in the relationship and what they are going through. But what enhances the experience is definitely seeing it with an audience who are prepared to be invested in it and be genuinely frightened by it, and being in audience of critics who are bound to be skeptical about 'the scariest film you will ever see' will not make the experience fully engaging. Audience interaction is definitely the part of Paranormal Activity which makes it much more scary.

  • Comment number 16.

    It was a decent enough scary film. The tension built well and there was a good pay-off at the end. But it didn't leave a lasting impression for me. However... I undertand why it did for some. (Not sure why the good Dr. is having trouble relating to those who did). The simple reasons all relate to ordinary people and ordinary fears:
    -Characters - Seemingly 'real' people, non-professions that audiences can relate to and care about.
    -Domestic setting - The 'home invasion' scenario is obviously powerful, especially the bedroom setting.
    -The dark - One of the most common fears.*
    The combination of ordinary characters, in bed, in the dark, someone/something else in the house, bumps in the night etc, all create a potent mix for some viewers. Seems pretty obvious to me.
    *Also possible to note that all of the above points relate to The Exorcist (yawn)

  • Comment number 17.

    well i think it's already been mentioned but emotional investment is key.. with 'The Exorcist' if you don't believe in god you don't really have any credible purchase for the full effect to hit you (DR N.. CoE or Catholic?)

    with P.A. i won't be watching it.. for the same reasons i haven't seen any kruger films.. sleep comes badly to me.. over imagination too much coffee recurring nightmares.. who knows.. i just don't want to mess with an already bad situation.. in the past i've been touched by "hags" in the same sleeping room with friends that were also "visited".. it's pretty scary

    i love horror films and love being scared but if that means i'll live with it for months on end no thankyou.. that's emotional and involvement and as a film that i daren't see
    i give it top marks

  • Comment number 18.

    See, films don't really scare me, but I always get very tense and jump at all the jumpy bits and that happened in Paranormal Activity for me. But it hasn't lingered with me or given me nightmares. The found footage technique was a nice touch, but not wholly convincing. Blair Witch handles it much better, and Cloverfield does it much much worse (talking about your rocky relationship on home video?? I mean come on!! But hey, it had HUGE monsters and bugs which made your stomach explode, so I'm not complaining!) One thing that I felt detracted from the realism of the footage was the way that, between scenes, there were fade outs and fade ins, which wouldn't be there on found footage, unless the police decided to try a little bit of film editing! In Blair Witch it just switches instantly to the next scene, which makes it feel much more real.

  • Comment number 19.

    You're being too kind on it, you had the same reaction to borat and didn't say 'well it must be good because everyone else is laughing,' you just said that they were wrong; apply the same logic for P.A.

    On the point of suspending disbelief the first time I saw There Will Be Blood I thought Daniel Day Lewis was going to explode out of the screen in the final scene; as with the Exorcist, its scary because you think its real not because you’re told to think its real

  • Comment number 20.

    I have yet to see it but I agree that the format is now coming around asold-hat, escpeacially the marketing, Blair Witch and Cloverfield only did as well because of the realistic campaigns.
    With this it's "The film that terrified America" and so on but i believe a good film should have people talking about it for days after watching it.
    And, thinking about it, the biggest film for doing that and also managing a simple marketing campaign, as the Dr said, The Exorcist.

  • Comment number 21.

    I hope that most, if not all people, watch horror films to be scared by them.

    Horror has to be one of the hardest film-genre/audience/critic nuts to crack. Well, okay, maybe that's actually comedy...

    Modern-cine-lit audience members are often all too eager to see through movie artifice. Creeky plots, obvious twists, borrowed dogma/POV genres, stealing from some obscure, but more innovative film, etc...

    Often though, I think it's all-essentially-the viewers' specific inability to just 'Go with' a film. Perhaps that's because of Film-Fatigue or maybe it's over-exposure to the nuts'n'bolts of the darned industry. Which, i'd guess, might alter ones perception of 'their place' (italics there) in said 'Industry'. (that's me actually; door chime repairman by day, film magazine devouring/website-postin'/Movie/guzzlin'/Ninja/film/reviewer by night)

    Which brings me to my second point.

    I think too much emphasis is placed on the low budget/big bucks profit differential here. Not only are we all film critics, we're also all movie producers as well! - it grossed HOW MUCH?.. "Like, Whatever; I'm a HORROR Movie fan, it has some good scares"...

  • Comment number 22.

    I agree with some of the comments above that the more open you are to the premise of a horror film, the more scary you will find it. For example, a movie like Jaws taps into a fairly universal fear, which is why most people find it frightening. If you think the idea of "paranormal activity" is ridiculous, the film probably won't have as great an effect on you as someone who open to the idea of ghosts and demons. I feel a movie like The Blair Witch Project does a much better job at selling the audience on the premise of the film than Paranormal Activity did. The makers of The Blair Witch Project really spent a lot of time setting up a backstory and atmosphere, where the events in Paranormal Activity just start. For a film like Paranormal Activity the audience has to meet it halfway for it to be an effective horror film.

  • Comment number 23.

    Rather than scary, I found this film disturbing and unsettling- which for me is everything I look for in a horror film. I, like yourself, sit through many a horror film (particularly the modern day stuff) and rather than be scared, I am actually guessing where the next 'jumpy' moment will be coming from- its just all oh so predictable 99% of the time.

    While certainly not the greatest film ever, this is where Paranormal Activity succeeds for me. OK so the recovered camera footage technique is hardly original nowadays, but done from a slightly different perspective as this film does, its a hell of a lot more enjoyable than the by the numbers 'horror' thats churned out every week by the studios. This is why when films adopt the technique well, as in the case of Spit on Your Grave, Blair Witch, Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity as the latest example, these films strike a chord with critics and audiences. It simple, audiences are so bogged down by most mainstream cinematic output nowadays that a little originality goes a long long way.

    But to answer your questions as to why its scary. Well I can only answer on a personal level but its that primal fear of the dark, of the unknown, the unclear and uncertain and the endless possibilitys that spring from that in ones mind. I watched this in a quiet screening and in the still video camera in the bedroom scenes I was captivated, hooked by the fear or not knowing what was coming next. How refreshing it was to not be able to guess the next beat in a mainstream horror picture.

    Im not a horror buff by any means, maybe because catching a bit of The Shining as a child turned me into an absolute whimp to the genre until later in life! Maybe this means I am easier to scare (but why do so many horror films fail to do so?). I do think its a slight fear of the dark, of going to sleep in a darkened room, an act that for a time leaves you totally unaware of the goings on around you and completely exposed. Paranormal Activity tapped into this for me, and I know even now (a while after viewing the film) it still crosses my mind when I turn my bedside light off at night. Yes im a whimp, but for me that the sign of damn good horror.

  • Comment number 24.

    Those effects are really annoying, its like watching Requiem for a Dream.

    I think Paranormal Activity is scary because of where its set, in a bedroom. We are at our most vulnerable when we're asleep and anything could happen to us, maybe audiences are finding this aspect the most affecting. Its a little like Nightmare on Elm street where you get attacked in your dreams, therefore its not safe to go to sleep and as such, you're thinking about the film when your in bed.

  • Comment number 25.

    I think its a combination of you being desensitized by all the horror flck's over the year's and that there is just some people out there, (like a small portion of my friend's) who just dont buy into this whole format of filming making. Did the Blair Witch Project actually scare you Mark? Or did you, like this movie, just enjoy how it all played out. Remember the the last and only time this format creeped you out, was when the first of it's kind came along.

  • Comment number 26.

    it is scaring me because every time i hear ANOTHER person say the words paranormal and activity together i feel i am getting one step closer to falling into a psychotic neurosis and massacring my collage.

  • Comment number 27. isn't frightening.

    Entertaining...yes, enjoyable ...yes.

    I just couldn't help but think that as the film progressed, that it that were me in that house, then I would

    1) Shut the damn door before I went to sleep and

    2) I would certainly want to swap places with my partner so they could deal with any matters arising!.

    I also found the chicken feet scenario a bit of a let down...foghorn leghorn anyone???

    The chilling moment for me was the thought of a partner stood over me for some considerable time whilst I was asleep. I've actually heard about children who have done this in their parents room....Imagine waking up to that!(shiver)

  • Comment number 28.

    totally agree with scurra that 'Ghostwatch' is the daddy of this format (self video rather than the documentary filming of C.H.).. truely chilling and pulls you in (and i watched it ten years later in a gallery.. i can only imagine what people watching it on tv went through.. a true Welles moment)
    and 'Jaws' too.. rubbish film.. i can't stand the director but every time i go in the sea.. EVERYTIME i think of sharks.. and what of clowns?
    'IT'.. again rubbish but scary as hell.. maybe something to do with seeing 'Poltergeist' in the cinema at 10 years of age.. maybe a seemingly global mistrust of clowns.. again involvement from past history effecting film experience

    much scarier than the oft repeated greatest film by the slicked one but all i can say is that your bedroom must be some kind of disneyland

  • Comment number 29.

    "What don't i get?"

    From your above clip it sounds to me like you approached the movie fully aware it was based on "found footage" and refused to suspend your disbelief on this basis alone.

    "Old hat."

    Cinéma vérité is an established style of moviemaking. As is animation, documentary and every other type of film out there. It's crazy to approach a film already weary that it's methods are nothing new.

    As a viewer to suspend your disbelief and use fresh, naive eyes is the only way to allow a film to affect you beyond the screening. In the case of this film close friends of yours we're able, as we're the majority of the public.

    As a reviewer you admired the work that had gone into its creation but before, during and after you refused to drop your personal stigma attached to this specific style.

    In answer then, your intense history and extensive experience with film has created over analytical, idiosyncratic opinions towards aspects of the artform, dramatically altering your perception and not reflecting the majority.

  • Comment number 30.

    The reason people are getting creeped out by this movie is because the movie brings a supernatural, uncomfortable situation into an environment where people feel the safest. People are then convinced that wherever you go, you are not safe and that freaks a lot of people out.

    My fiancee and I saw it; it creeped us both out and we admired the creativity of it all but we never had any surrealistic nightmares. It was just a neat, little creepy movie and we're both glad that it has had much success.

  • Comment number 31.

    For me it came down to one thing. The ending. Or should I say the one I saw. The few moments in the closing moments of the film ( I saw the original ending, not the theatrical ending) are some of the most deeply unsettling imagery and sound since The Exorcist. It made my skin crawl and heart race. I actually broke out in a cold sweat. I'm not kidding.

    Up until the ending I was enjoying it but not that scared by it. Then it was like being hit in the face with no warning. It just looked and sounded real and kudos should go the actress for helping to convince no end in that regard.

    I just did not expect what happened in the final 15 mins or so and was caught totally off guard. What started as an interesting (but not scary) watch, became completely terrifying all of a sudden. I forgot for those brief few moments I was watching a film. It was like I was pulled through the screen against my will.

    Oh and I watched it on my own. In the dark. With headphones. Its the only way.

  • Comment number 32.

    I should add that the film worked on another level as well to help raise the fear factor. I cared for the female character, although I hadn't really been aware of it on a conscious level.
    And that made it all the more terrifying.

    Enough said

  • Comment number 33.

    Have had no desire to go see PARANORMAL ACTIVITY after hearing comparisons to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, not a film I hold in high regard; maybe the style could be described as uncinematic and thats why Dr. K was non plussed?

    Have just seen THE DESCENT: PART 2, which I really enjoyed, good trashy fun with a fine ratio of laughs and scares, don't listen to the snobby reviews, sneak a beer in and you'll have a blast; bring on Part 3!

  • Comment number 34.

    Oh by Part 3, I do of course mean THE DESCENT 3D!!!
    Only kidding.

  • Comment number 35.

    have just recently discovered your blogs Mark and I lov em and have been watching them all back to back.
    but does Mayo have to keep making unfunny disparaging interjections while your reviewing?

    he's getting on my nerves like a bad actor in a great film.

  • Comment number 36.

    I agree with alot of the posts here i think horror films do depend on the state of mind and the experience of watching the film. Like Dave B said watching a movie at 2 in the morning alone is gonna be alot scarier than with someone else and the sun shining. I thought id share an experience of mine that terrified me. I was watching the Ring home alone which as i watched wasn't very scared by, its a great film but the catalyst is a bit too unbelivable, as soon as the credits started to roll, and i mean as soon as Naomi Watts said those last lines the phone rang. I was too scared to answer and still dont know who called at such an inopportune time. The film itself wasn't too scary but whenever someone mentions The Ring i still get an uneasy feeling due to the circumstances.

  • Comment number 37.

    Add me to the list of people that found it entertaining enough but not even remotely scary.

    Like Scurra the first thing it reminded me of was Ghostwatch (was that 20-odd years ago now? Flippin' heck!).

    The second thing it made me think of are all these "real" ghost hunting shows (especially Most Haunted). Although Paranormal Activity has much better acting and more convincing special effects ;)

  • Comment number 38.

    The only thing that scares people now about Paranormal Activity is they are afraid of missing the point of the film and being dubbed incapable of understanding the film on the level it requires.

    In essence this film comes close to the Emperor’s new clothes. Some of us have seen this all before and find it hard to have an emotional response to what is an old trick. There is nothing new about this film's style or technique. What is new about this film was the marketing which we still have not got our heads around.

  • Comment number 39.

    No, everyone's right, it's not real. But neither are The Bourne Ultimatum or United 93. It's real in the same way those are, in that is has a documentary feel, and you suspend disbelief. Oren Peli knows you know it's not real. It doesn't matter. They haven't tried making you believe it's real in the same way The Blair Witch Project did.

    Cloverfield uses Found Footage and doesn't try to be real in the sense that you believe the event in our world. You believe in it in the onscreen world. The video camera aspect is a tool for helping this.

    [Rec] - same thing.

    Diary of the Dead - Same thing. Also hugely underrated, although Kim Newman gave it a good defence.

    But anyway, my real point's this. My university hosted a midnight screening of The Exorcist Director's Cut last week. I'd never seen it as a whole, just a selection of the added scenes.

    I love the film, and I didn't like the Director's Cut as much as the theatrical. It felt very choppy, a little messily edited, and the music jarred at points. On the plus side however, the remastered soundtrack was spectacular, the sound design is stunning, and hearing Mercedes McCambridge's cackle in a cinema (the first time I've seen The Exorcist projected) was wonderful.

    I actually most want a balance of the two versions, in which certain scenes are added to the theatrical (most importantly the stairway conversation) but it keeps the slow-burn flow of the theatrical cut.

    As I left my brother and I discussed the changes (he having never seen either cut).

    But Mark, please clarify what your preferred cut of The Exorcist is. I'm intrigued.

  • Comment number 40.

    That is one badly written comment, I'm shocked at my lack of proof-reading.

    For one thing, it's WHICH is your preferred cut.


  • Comment number 41.

    Dear Dr. K

    I think like a great many things it comes down to the simple fact that if you do something repeatedly you become desensitized to it.

    If you see lot's of feel good films pretty soon you get objective and become aware of the dynamics that make it work. Like you have stated about the films that do scare you, in turn you are equally able to articulate why something doesn't scare you.

    I love fantasy films and despite the success of Harry Potter I cannot access it and have never made it through even one Potter film without wondering what all the fuss was about and how much I enjoy other films from the genre much more.

    Also for Horror films to work the viewer must bring 50% of the fear to the film itself - like with Jaws we are already scared of deep water, the film simply builds on this primal fear. If you are not scared of the deep then Jaws may be just a bit of music and robotic shark malarky to you.

  • Comment number 42.

    One of the defining cinematic conventions of 'recent times' is 'shaky cam' that a hand held digital camera provides a degree of 'authenticity' to the proceedings. Not to suggest this is something which has been recently invented but it's popularity has gained immense ways in recent years. Bourne, Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, and The Hurt Locker.

    Something which the Good Doctor questioned about the usage of 'shaky cam' is that does shaky cam convince the viewer that the proceedings being seen are 'real'? This is something I have great problems with, as the very intention of 'cinema' is to be 'cinematic' which for films of a non documentary nature are to be staged, and this is an aesthetic as a viewer most cannot get past.

    'Shaky Cam' is often partly used for budgetary constraints eg in Rec to great success, and Paranormal Activity. A film in recent times where I thought it failed was 'The Hurt Locker' as there are elements which are so wonderfully cinematic eg some of the moments of bomb disposal that in contrast some of the shaky cam moments felt to be conflicted. Personally, I believe problems with such aesthetics of film making come when used with contradictory means, which as far as Paranormal Activity is concerned it is not the case.

    As for Paranormal Activity failing to scare, I reluctantly add myself to the list. The trailer is partly to blame as in my opinion most of the key moments from the film are in the trailer, so when watching the film I felt I had few surprises ahead of me. I watched the film as part of a packed cinema who were all screaming with fear for the best of the time, and irrespective that I didn't enjoy it that much, the group consensus was that PA did satisfy it's inclinations. Sometimes, as difficult as a critic as it may be (as we all are on this forum) one just to say 'they're right, i'm wrong' and leave it at that.

  • Comment number 43.

    It all depends on what is scary to you. I personally am a sucker for ghost/haunted house movies. They always creep me out. So Paranormal activity was terrifying to me.
    On the other hand something like a slasher movie never ever scares me. Not that I don't enjoy some of them but I'm never at all scared by it.
    It's all about what gets to YOU.
    P.S. I have seen a TON of horror movies.

  • Comment number 44.

    I wonder what role the use of sound plays in preparing an audience for an unsettling experience. Mark mentioned in his review of Paranormal Activity that there is a sub-woofer rumble on the soundtrack. Doubtless this is meant to convey menace but our favourite film reviewer found it an intrusive post-production effect.

    While it's not a horror movie The White Ribbon is a pretty unsettling experience. I found it fascinating that it featured no incidental music at all (not even over the credits). Every sound heard had a visual identifier on screen. As the film progressed, I became increasingly aware of the long periods of silence and the stress it created within the story.

    It was the absence of sound that contributed to making me uncomfortable, rather than the use of sound to artificially create that sensation.

  • Comment number 45.

    I found the film disturbing, but I wasn't terrified of it. Maybe this was because I sat in a cinema where people were laughing, talking and just generally grunting. This prevented me from getting fully immersed in the movie, and I felt a sense of detachment. Perhaps if I had seen it home alone, it would have scared me more.

    There were two things in the film that genuinely made my skin crawl. The first was the inky blackness of the hallway. I find the best horror films are those that make use of sound, and Paranormal Activity was excellent in that regard. Looking out into the hallway and seeing nothing, but hearing all manner of strange noises, was unsettling for me. There was also the whole Nietzsche thing about it too.

    The other thing that got me was when she was dragged off down the hallway, screaming all the way. I wouldn't expect this to have fazed a horror film critic like yourself, Mark, because you'll have seen it many times before. But I'm not really that much of a horror fan, so I don't know all the cliches, and it was this part of the movie that affected me the most.

  • Comment number 46.

    Session 9 was the last haunted house horror film that really kept me on edge throughout. Paranormal Activity was riding alot of hype and I have to admit that I was checking my watch quite a bit during the first hour. There wasn't much to see except the few minutes of strange happenings in the bedroom.

  • Comment number 47.

    OK, I can't comment on the scariness of cinema verite techniques in "Paranormal activity" as I haven't seen it yet, but I had precisely this reaction to the Blair Witch project.
    I think my problem with Blair Witch is the entire scariness of the movie hangs on whether you genuinely believe it to be footage made by a real documentary crew that never made it back from the woods.
    With Cinema Verite horror, suspension of disbelief for 2 hours isn't enough, you have to literally believe it happened exactly like that or it all falls flat.
    The mistake the makers of Blair Witch made was to send the three central actors out on televised press junkets coinciding with the release when the audience was supposed to buy into the idea they were all missing, presumed dead. If those 3 actors had disappeared off everyone's radar for a year that might have worked, but take away the idea that it happened for real and what you're left with is this dreary "going through the motions" of getting lost in the woods, seeing stick figures, getting lost some more, seeing more stick figures, getting lost yet more etc. etc. which is just irritating when you know from the press junkets they're not actually dead.
    That's not cinema verite... it's the law of diminishing returns. One minute's panicky scramble through a deserted house right at the end didn't compensate for the feeling I'd wasted 2 hours watching boring people with a lousy sense of direction trudging the same forest path 4 times in a row. Big deal.

  • Comment number 48.

    I haven't seen PA, nor do I really want to, but I do believe that my experience regarding 'The Blair Witch Project' might go some way to elucidating why for some these films are not even slightly scary.

    I saw Blair Witch whilst recovering from a particularly nasty flu and not having heard of it. My then wife had rented it and had informed me that it was not a horror film - not a favourite genre for me at the time.

    I thought it was boring, bad and pointless, but never even slightly horrific; it was probably half-way through, before I was reasonable convinced it was meant to be a horror film. Interestingly my wife in admitting that it was meant to be a horror film also felt that it was nothing of the kind.

    My point is that these films rely on 'The Emperor's New clothes' effect. Unless the subject is fully prepared and trusting the whole thing is going to fail. As soon as the slightest sliver of doubt is let through the whole thing collapses.

  • Comment number 49.

    This type of film gives horror a bad name, its cheap , not scary at all - wny did they bother?

  • Comment number 50.

    watched paranormal activity last night and your bang on the money. its not scary. a few nice touches, a bit of tension but nothing to elevate it into a 'classic'. and the ending was just plain cheesy.
    even my girlfriend wasnt scared

  • Comment number 51.

    During the 4 or so minutes that the critic was talking, I was focused on the door behind the sofa( before the camera zoomed in to the door handle). Like the knife, in the opening shots of 'paranormal activity,' I actually thought this was going to signify something. The scariest element to this film is waiting for the frightening bits.
    The beginning was deadly drear, with really irritatingly gormless footage of a bored and aimless Micha strumming a guitar and being vacuously in love with his girl. It wasn't a domestic to demonic Hitchcock build-up. It's not real footage, and it's not a straight film, so what is it? Predictable. 'Most Haunted' could come up with better. If you're susceptible to the idea of demonic, then no doubt you'll be affected. But you can't really suspend disbelief, knowing that the director has set up a video and filmed his bedroom in order to record footage that isn't really footage. And who took the shots in the living room when the board set fire? I think it was a bit of a fraud. It's rather like saying, I'm going to come into your bedroom and scare you tonight. That is not to say that I wouldn't watch door handle ...

  • Comment number 52.

    In the case of PA, I think part of the issue is the credibility of the subject matter. There are ghost stories and there are 'real-life' ghost stories.

    My partner are her sisters are part for the 'Most Haunted' generation who think any that happens on a night-vision camera is scary. Personally I'm usually laughing my head off. So it transpired with PA. I ended up laughing in several parts of the film.

  • Comment number 53.

    Sorry Stu, I'm confused, what's wrong with a film being inexpensive?? 28 days later cost nothing in comparisson to some of the durge remakes that Michael Bay and co spew out at a rate of knots, and grinds most other horror films into the dust, including Paranormal Activity!

  • Comment number 54.

    Couldn't sleep so decided to watch Kermode's reviews: I have to be honest, this video scared me more than the film itself and now I'm wide awake !?!?!?!

  • Comment number 55.

    Mutualy I also adore the thrill of the chill that comes with horror.
    I went to see Paranormal Activity and was equaly confused by everyone else's reaction. I thought it was impresive if we're talking popularity versus buget, but the scare-o-meter reads at about a 2

  • Comment number 56.

    And in response to Josh: I agree, enormous movie bugets are overrated.
    The rage infected zombies feast upon the synthetic animation of megatron and his equaly digitized cyber-minions.

  • Comment number 57.

    Honestly, I can only see people who were scared by this film were willingly or easily sucked into it, perhaps setting themselves up to be scared by advertising, word of mouth, etc.

    On its own P.A. didn't manage to engage me in any way, I didn't find it scary. I wanted to, but it simply didn't work for me. I wasn't able to be led into the film so easily.

    I've always held that the good movie-viewing experience needs you to be willing to engage the film and the film being good enough at dragging you the rest of the way into its reality for the duration.

    I was ready to impressed and excited by this winning underdog, apparently the film wasn't prepared to offer me anything except cliches and tedium.

    I guess I never had bought into the home video = Real! concept. It would never be shown... Simple as that. Some work better for a while (Cannibal Holocaust) than others (Cloverfield) at being convincing, but at the end of the day if they were real, they'd never be on the cinema screen and I never believe that they will be.

  • Comment number 58.

    I'm wondering what the good doctor would say about the Spanish film [REC] - how does he place within this growing body of films claiming to be found footage, etc..?
    Is there also something about the films which use moving handheld cameras that makes them scarier than the stationary 'locked' view, if only because it makes the viewer feel as if they are moving through the filmic space themselves?

  • Comment number 59.

    Parts of it creeped me out, but it was by no means a "really" scary film. I disagree with the good doctor on the point that if you don't know horror, it will scare you, and if you do, it won't. To an extent it is right, but I don't think it is the reason opinion has been divided.

    Unlike, say, The Exorcist, which despite having a big spiritual and religious theme, you don't have to believe in it to be terrified. With this film, I think it relies entirely upon your own personal fears of the "paranormal" and simply being scared of the dark. Even though I'm sure the majority of people will say they don't believe in ghosts, I'm sure most of them DO get freaked out by noises in the night.

  • Comment number 60.

    Nathalie, The Good Doctor was a big fan of [REC.] hence why he loathed the apalling American remake "Quarantine." Personally, I hated both the original and the remake. I just found the whole concept a bit wierd.

    As for the shakey cam thing, I totally agree. One of the prolems with paranormal activity is that they have a tripod! :D The scene in Blair Witch where they run from the tent persued by the giggles of little boys and girls is made all the more terrifying by the fact that you can't tell what they're running from because it's all shaking!

  • Comment number 61.

    For me the psychology of "Paranormal Activity" is far more interesting than the film itself. I didn't enjoy it, didn't find it remotely scary and thought it was all rather crudely done and predictable - I suppose you can't expect too much for that budget. However, I was amazed by the amount of people I talked to that said it was the scariest thing they'd ever seen, but couldn't really tell me what exactly was scary - seemingly they'd been talked into this opinion by the marketing campaign, and the word-of-mouth consensus of the people around them. Actually expressing a differing opinion in the office was difficult, almost as if I wasn't allowed to see through the Emperor's new clothes. The marketing campaign on this one was the real art, not actually showing any part of the film in the trailers, but setting up an aspiration to be part of the group, to be one of the people that "get it". I'm sorry to say I'm not part of the herd. The scariest thing is how people have been brainwashed.

  • Comment number 62.

    You mentioned in the latest podcast that it doesn't matter how and where you see a film, it's purely the film that makes it scary.

    However you are completely wrong. I've already mentioned how The Texas Chain Saw Massacre only scared me watching it on my own late at night but another film which had a similar effect was The Haunting. I've only seen it once but again it was on my own, late at night and it was a terrifying experience. I just can't imagine it would be a scary seeing it during the day, with friends.

  • Comment number 63.

    is there a difference between scary and creepy

    for those who have'nt seen 'the blair witch project' get the dvd and watch the half hour documentary in the extras menu before you watch the film

  • Comment number 64.

    "I suppose you can't expect too much for that budget."

    Er, hello?? I refer you again to classics like 28 Days Later, Let the Right One in ect. For the final time, budgets don't mean Jack!

  • Comment number 65.

    One problem facing someone trying to enjoy a film like this is the exact thing that helps it sell in the first place, and that's the illusion that it's real footage. I mean surely people can get over this easy enough? Of course it's a film. It's in the cinemas for goodness sake. After the Blair Witch no-one will fall for it again, so there is no excuse to be disappointed when the illusion is broken. The footage is even fed to you (and this was the same in Blair Witch) in a drip-feed of handy plot snippets that ratchet up the necessary information to scare you.
    I think if you end up being disappointed on this score, more fool you. I went into Paranormal Activity knowing I was going to watch a film and let it work that way. You let it work on a normal horror-film's terms.

    Possibly the most harmful thing for the film's impact is the hype and this could be what got Dr. Kermode. Maybe being told it was an absolute belter counted against his enjoyment?

    One final thought. Maybe Dr Kermode sleeps with the door open and such a thing is old news to him. I never sleep with the door open. I need that barrier there to help me sleep. The thought of something wandering straight into the room while I kip is a troubling one. As is the thought of your other-half getting up and standing over you for several hours...
    If neither of those things work, then the film doesn't have a hope.

  • Comment number 66.

    I wasn't under the impression that Blair Witch was real footage from the outset, which was the entire problem. If you can't force the audience to suspend their disbelief, you have to come up with something a lot more cunning to scare them then 3 students on a backpacking trip in the woods getting lost being followed by a film crew with a penchant for twig handicrafts. I'd sooner have professionally shot and scripted footage constructed and edited in a studio to scare me.
    The suspense fizzled out when they started repeating the same "we walked past this rock before" schtick over and over again and a bit of wobble-cam failed to crank up the tension. I've been more scared watching ameteur footage on "You've been Framed".
    If they hadn't wasted time attempting to tell us it was all true and poured that effort into the script I could've happily suspended disbelief, instead of which they fell straight into uncanny valley [the concept that just as things start edging towards verisimilitude the mind automatically becomes hyper critical of any deviations from percieved normality and rejects it without a moment's hesitation. This applies to androids and CG characters too].

  • Comment number 67.

    I found the film unsettling, but not on a massive scale. What got me was not the actual activity from beyond the grave, but the issues surrounding the woman, e.g. when she is standing besides the bed for hours at a time as her husband sleeps on, totally unaware that he is being watched. The potential of something awful coming from one of us, a once regular person, who is only being nudged towrads this horror by the spectacularly powerful forces that are present. Because she is not hurrled towards her fate, it made me wonder: is the activity acting on a "normal" person, or was she somehow already waiting for something to, for want of a better term, activate her?

  • Comment number 68.

    The reason i believe is because its meant to scare a younger generation. Us teens weren`t around when The Exorcist was released. I wasn`t scared because it didn`t thrill me as much as it wanted me to.

    However i enjoyed it and it doesnt matter if it doesnt scare you or not...its how good it is.

  • Comment number 69.

    I like horror films. They're a bit like a hot curry. Self inflicted, painful and traumatising, but also exhilarating. Paranormal Activity was comfortably the scariest film I have ever seen. I disagree that the "found footage" device is tired or lacks impact because it has now been done a few times. Yes, the device makes it a little harder for the audience to suspend belief and buy into the dramatic illusion, but I thought the lead actors' performances were so natural and devoid of clunkiness that I completely bought in. Added to that, the effects felt extremely realistic with no trace of silly computer generated cartoonery and there were no obvious flaws in the plot either (unlike Blair Witch). It's the only film I have watched where the audience has been screaming or gibbering in panic for prolonged stretches, and where people were leaving because ostensibly they couldn't handle any more of it. I was mesmerised. A proper vindaloo of a film.

  • Comment number 70.

    Not sure I like being told that I had fallen for the 'emporers new clothes' by Guru_raj...

    The film worked for me and I didn't have a particularly good night's sleep that night. Upon reflection, I think the reason is that the static bedroom shot makes you scrutinise any movement that occurs; you are waiting for something to happen so that when it does, it startles. There were faults (the Oui Ja board and the learned psychic, anyone?) but it was the thought of something so seemingly unstoppable in such an ordinary environment that propelled the film.

    I'd be interested in peoples views on the alternate ending (readily available on the internet). I thought it was a superior ending but can see why it may have tested better on audiences.

  • Comment number 71.

    I shall have to preface this comment with the fact that I haven't seen the film, so can only work within a more general frame.

    what allows us to connect with a film are two particular elements, the situation, and the agent working on/within that situation. as regards horror films, these elements are more particularly isolation and or claustrophobia, and the alien/unknown and or loss of control.

    what then dictates whether we become personally invested in these particulat elements of the horror is our own personality and experience. as a result, horror, more than any other genre, is almost entirely personal and subjective.

    given what I can glean from the comments above, where PA falls short for you, Dr K, is with regards to the alien of the piece. the more unknown, unseen and abstract this agent, the more we are called upon to engage our imagination upon it. could it be that yours has become so jaded and underused over time that it no longer acts with the level of poignancy that it once knew?

    my prescription would be to avoid films that are undemanding of the imagination, where the alien element is sharply defined. perhaps read more books?

  • Comment number 72.

    Hi everyone,

    I have a patner who has always been a horror film fan and has a massive collection of Asian and European horror films most of which I have seen. I am also finding it difficult to find films that genuinely scare or disturb me. As a kid and a teenager I used to be easily effected by horror films and as I have a vivid imagination I used to scare myself for weeks afterwards thinking about them. As an adult I am not easily scared but did find that paranormal activity was quite scary, particularly the parts where the woman would get out of bed and stand for ages in the dark. I think this has to do with my childhood fear of sleepwalking and waking up alone in the dark. The sacriest parts were definately towards the end when you see her leg all of a sudden dragged from under the covers and then she is carried down the corridor and when she stands for ages next to her boyfriend when he is asleep.
    Because we can never be 100% sure if ghosts do or do not exist, anything that reminds us of our primitive fears has the ability to scare us. I have recently read Freud's 'the Uncanny' written in 1919 and it says something about this.

    During the film my 16 year old sister started looking distressed and sitting forward, I thought she was disturbed by the film but she was actually feeling sea sick because of the camera work. She ended up having to go and throw up in the toilet half way through.

  • Comment number 73.

  • Comment number 74.

    I must agree with the posters above who would have at least shut the bedroom door if such goings-on were happening in their home.
    PA is supposed to be 'found' footage. As Dr Kermode has pointed out, there appears to be a sub-woofer on the soundtrack. Also, it seems to be edited i.e whole nights of footage missing, no goofing-around in front of the camera, no recording over important bits with irrelevant footage, no "private" scenes (think Paris Hilton), all mostly in focus, camera doesn't ever fall over. If the San Diego Police did the editing, that would tampering with evidence from a crime scene, would it not? They tried to get around this with fast-forward, but it didn't work for me. I remember Cloverfield took place over a time scale of hours, not weeks.
    I think the power of found footage or faux documentary-style horror movies is that you cannot "jump" out of them by pretending to be 10 feet behind the camera. In most movies, if you imagine yourself 10 feet behind the camera, what do you see? A camera, lighting and sound crew, with assorted grips, best boys and other people who appear on the credits. That's why a film set isn't scary, even for The Exorcist. But with found footage or documentaries, you're not on a film set. You're in real life. Oddly enough, one of the most horrifying examples of this was .... The Office.
    I note PA had no credits - but an abrupt end to the actual film stock. And no recognisable actors, either. Nice try, but no cigar.
    I think Dr Kermode is too versed in the grammar of cinema to believe that this is found footage, and that leaves the visuals, which look cheap to non-existant.
    Finally, a personal note. I am religious. I believe in God and angels, and therefore I also believe in the existence of his counterpart, the devil and his cohorts. Funny that there is no change in temperature noted by the couple when the demon makes his appearances, or smell for that matter (brimstone, anyone?). In fact, the demon helpfully shuts the bedroom door for them. Maybe I've misjudged the guy. He even found a long-lost photo for them. Thanks, demon. I can believe in the possession of a person's mind by demons, at a stretch I can believe in a physical manifestation of a demon on very rare occasions, but an odourless, invisible demon, that still leaves footprints, blows under bedclothes, moves objects, sets fire to stuff, but in the end has to possess a human to do the really dirty deed. Give me a break!

  • Comment number 75.

    Just a question. What is this alternative ending I've found on the internet(megavideo)? What are these different finishings all about?

  • Comment number 76.

    Paranormal Activity was so effective because it didn't try to scare me rather it played on the fears I already have - dark corners, musty attics, strange noises in the middle of the night.
    The films that jangle my nerves are about anticipation, they let my own imagination do all the heavy lifting.
    And although I was relatively composed after watching PA I did turn all the lights on as I was walking round my home.

    Personally I'm not a horror fan but being married to one I get roped into watching them. This was the case with PA.
    It's also the reason I have seen the Exorcist which was a good film and little scary but no sleep lost. Though I do generally find such blood and vomit fests more repulsive than frightening.

    I'm not a great fan of cinema verite either: Blair Witch was boring and Cloverfield exciting but neither was scary.

    However in PA the no-frills aspect gave me the illusion that I wasn't being manipulated by well chosen music, lighting or camera angles (Though we did feel sorry for this poor couple in a relationship devoid of 'relations').

    NB Having checked online it seems we saw the original ending

  • Comment number 77.

  • Comment number 78.

    Look at old dipstick here, first comment after signing up is a blank space!

    Anyhow I want to point out that I felt exactly the same as you, Mark. I am a horror fan and whilst I admired many elements of the film (it should be said, not all; in fact I reviewed it myself on Facebook and tore more holes in it than you did, which is saying something!), I did not find myself scared. Granted, the finale is rather chilling, though I wish they hadn't used the very final shot, as it didn't seem to fall in line with the rest of the movie, but generally speaking, I agree it was rather unremarkable. So don't feel like you're missing something....I think it's to do with what you buy into and what you don't; I find Blair Witch far more affecting as a film, but I feel this is simply that I bought into the situation more

  • Comment number 79.

    I mildly enjoyed Paranormal Activity although like yourself i wasnt truly scared or disturbed at any moment, i think the dialogue was lax, and unlike the exorcist which was continually scary, Paranormal Activity stopped and started in relation to it being daytime or nightime, because of this the film broke a fundemental convention of the horror genre, which is to keep the audience in suspence. This was obviously done as the director thought it would make him seem clever to juxtapose terror with banality. Sadly It'a been done many times before, namely Tarantino's use of comedy after violence and it came across as an adolescent attempt at shaking up the rule book. Just think how much better the movie would of been if the daytime story actually went somewhere, as opposed to nothingness. Therefore it's half a movie.


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