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'Paranormal Activity' lives up to its hype

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By Eric Harris

"Paranormal Activity" is a low-budget, horror sensation about a young couple, Micah and Katie, who decide to film themselves to get evidence of their haunting.

Micah seems to find the whole situation funny while Katie takes it quite seriously. Of course, things start to get creepy. While this might sound like the setup to a ghost-hunter TV show, it's actually a great setup for a truly freaky movie.

The big question with "Paranormal Activity" seems to be, "Is it worthy of all the hype?" It's certainly an understandable question. The film has been creating an Internet buzz for quite some time. In fact, the film gained its wide release through an Internet campaign in which one million people requested it to play in their hometowns. Then there are the previews - which I hope you ignored, since the ending is arguably ruined in the TV spots - which showcase audience reactions.

My answer to that question is definitely "yes." This movie is scary: cheap scary - its budget was only $11,000. So that means no excessive gore, no computer-animated monsters, no shrill violin infused score and no big-name actors. Is that a problem? Not for me.

Cheap scary means real scary. I've seen countless slasher movies in which the terror is supposed to be derived from a madman with a blunt object chasing teens. While I enjoy some of those movies, I haven't been scared by them since elementary school. I can never really imagine myself in those situations. Can I imagine being in a "Paranormal Activity" situation where I hear a knock, or a door creak in the middle of the night? I've been in those situations. Those times alone at night when you scare yourself for no reason at all. That is what this film thrives on.

Much like "The Blair Witch Project," this film preys on pre-existing fears. Honestly, if those fears don't exist for you, then you'll probably find this movie boring. But there might be something in the film even for the detractors. For instance, the movie is actually funny early on. Micah is the skeptic and his reaction to the haunting and Katie's fear is hilarious at times.

The film is a slow burn, though, and the laughs stop eventually and the film becomes completely terrifying. There's nothing wrong with that, though. It's just surprising that the film contained so many laughs. Micah and Katie interact perfectly as a couple and their banter lightens the mood immensely. It works so well when you think about human nature. What's the first thing people do after they've been scared but they realize everything is OK? They laugh. An audience at a screening of "Paranormal Activity" could be used as a social experiment on the human reaction to fear.

Speaking of the audience, the crowd at the theater is vital for this film. It also adds to the comedy. My theater got quite a kick out of a group that left near the end of the film because they were so scared. The audience also accentuates each fear when there's an entire group of people hiding their eyes or screaming. I didn't happen to hide my eyes or scream, but when that's going on around you, you tend to tense up.

Tension is the real scare element in this film. Since the movie uses the mockumentary (á la "Blair Witch Project") style, the audience is subjected to multiple scenes of the couple sleeping. It's tense because you know something is going to happen, it's just a matter of where. Your eyes dart around the screen, trying to catch the moment. It places you in the movie and amps up the fear. Let me put it this way: every time a night scene ended, I was relieved. Not because I was bored or anything, but because it was tense to the point of being stressful.

Some of this might make it seem like "Paranormal Activity" isn't an enjoyable experience. At times, a scary movie shouldn't be enjoyable; it should make you tense and nervous. That's what "Paranormal Activity" does. Does it live up to the hype? Yes. Do I ever want to put myself through the experience of it again? No way. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Harris of Cannelton is a movie buff and blogger who posts reviews of films at www.canneltoncritic.com.