(2009) Supernatural Horror (Paramount) Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Friedrichs, Amber Armstrong, Ashley Palmer, Randy McDowell, James Piper, Crystal Cartwright. Directed by Oren Peli
We think of haunted houses of being old Victorian mansions and Gothic monstrosities in fog-shrouded, rain-soaked streets with black cats and kudzu aplenty. However, paranormal activity can occur even in the most innocuous of settings.
Katie (Featherston) and Micah (Sloat) have been together for a few years now and have taken the big step of moving in together, into a beautiful suburban San Diego home. He’s a day trader and a pretty typical modern 20-something guy. She’s an English student and a pretty typical modern 20-something gal. They have high hopes for the future.
Then strange things begin to happen. Doors open and shut of their own accord. Things fall off of shelves. They are awakened by loud bangs in the night. Micah, however, being a pretty typical modern 20-something guy, has a major league digital video rig. He determines to film the goings on in the house; this becomes something of an obsession with him. As things escalate, Katie grows more terrified (she’s had experience with paranormal events in her past), Micah grows more determined and the strain begins to show on the couple. The question is: what does this entity want?
This is as successful a horror movie as you’re likely to see, both from a profit standpoint (see below) but also from an artistic standpoint as well. The movie has almost no budget and very few visual effects that aren’t practically generated. This is a found footage movie consisting entirely of Micah’s videotaping which can be both good and bad; it allows us to be privy to some very intimate moments for the couple (not the sexual kind) but also leads to long periods of really not much going on.
Fortunately, Featherston and Sloat have a natural chemistry together; they act and feel like a real couple, with Featherston getting exasperated with Sloat and Sloat being a guy about things. They argue, they kid each other and they show each other affection the way couples who have been together for awhile do. There are other actors here (such as Friedrichs as a paranormal expert) but it is Featherston who is onscreen for nearly every shot with Sloat being more often the voice of the guy holding the camera.
There are some genuine scares here but the movie goes for atmosphere more than anything else. The movie works because it generates a mood and relies on that to elevate the tension. The scares pop the balloon nicely, leaving us unbalanced for most of the film which is what a good horror movie is supposed to do.
The fact that the setting is so ordinary and mundane makes the film even creepier. It could be taking place in our own homes. And that ability to make it relatable is what makes the movie all the more effective. A lot has been made of the film’s very effective marketing campaign, the low budget and the big box office. All these things have tended to obscure the fact that this is a well-made horror movie that will keep you hooked until the very end. Now that the Saw franchise has come to an end, Halloween has a new franchise to look forward to.
WHY RENT THIS: One of the most effective “found footage” movies yet. Surprisingly good performances from unknowns Featherston and Sloat. Atmospheric and scary yet believable.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Starts out very slowly and there are a lot of stretches where nothing exciting happens..
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a lot of bad language and some really disturbing moments.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The entire movie was filmed in director Oren Peli’s home.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Limited Edition comes with an unrated version with an alternative ending, a collectors card with a film cell on it and a limited edition t-shirt.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $193.3M on a $15,000 production budget; the movie was a blockbuster and maybe the most profitable movie ever on a budget under six figures.
FINAL RATING: 7/10
TOMORROW: Paranormal Activity 2