By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — As it did in both 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project” and last year’s “Cloverfield,” the use of a video camera to tell an ostensibly fact-based horror tale makes for an unsettling sense of immediacy — and jangled audience nerves — in “Paranormal Activity” (Paramount).
Writer-director Oren Peli’s feature debut, made for a tiny fraction of the normal Hollywood budget, is mostly gore-free, playing instead — subtly and quite effectively — on viewers’ primal fears of the unseen. But his script fails to show the same restraint with regard to language and sexual topics.
Our amateur cameraman is ordinary San Diego yuppie Micah (Micah Sloat), who has purchased the gadget to document some disturbing phenomena that have been taking place recently in the house he shares with girlfriend Katie (Katie Featherston). (As Micah later puts it, to Katie’s visible annoyance, the couple is “engaged to be engaged.”)
Katie, who tells of being pursued by an evil spirit off and on since childhood, is wary of the supernatural and enlists the aid of a psychic (Mark Fredrichs), though he eventually proves ineffectual. Micah, by contrast, begins by treating the situation as a lark, but becomes increasingly confrontational with the invisible presence, bullheadedly regarding its unidentified designs on Katie as a challenge to his machismo.
The fact that most of the taping is done in their bedroom, since the entity is particularly active while they’re asleep, offers Micah the opportunity for several off-color suggestions, and we witness the immediate aftermath of a coupling about which he boasts. Additionally, as he and Katie become more and more panicked, their fear leads to a stream of obscenity, including at least 35 uses of the F-word.
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Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.
The film contains some sexual content, including a premarital situation, an off-screen encounter and a few jokes and references, a half-dozen uses of profanity, pervasive rough and crude terms, and at least two obscene gestures. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.