‘Insidious: Chapter 2’ is More of a Continuation Than a Sequel

Insidious Chapter 2 poster

My feelings towards “Insidious: Chapter 2” are not much different from how I felt about “Insidious.” Neither movie scared me in the way they scared my friends, and they don’t really hold a candle to the “Paranormal Activity” movies in terms of making you jump out of your seat, but I did admire their cleverness as they turned the genres they were exploring upside down, and both films gave me something I wasn’t expecting. But moreover, the real strength of “Insidious: Chapter 2” is it doesn’t feel like a sequel as much as it feels like a continuation of what came before it. Part of me was expecting a simple retread of the original, but the filmmakers succeed in adding more to what came before.

It reunites the horror team of director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell, both who made the first “Insidious” movie as well as the first “Saw.” What drove me nuts about “Saw” and its sequels wasn’t the gore (the way I see it, the gore the merrier), but the plot twists which ended those movies left me with the most enormous of headaches as they expected me to believe Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) could pull this or that off, and I didn’t buy any of the conclusions for a second. The “Insidious” movies, however, don’t make the same mistake, and what I admired was how certain questions from the original film got answered here. Perhaps a close analysis would reveal plot holes, but both movies seem to connect together in a way which makes sense.

Like “Halloween II” (whether it’s the original sequel or Rob Zombie’s), “Insidious: Chapter 2” starts off where the original ended. Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) has successfully rescued his son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) from the Further, but after a peaceful moment where the family is reunited, his wife Renai (Rose Byrne) discovers paranormal investigator Elise Rainer (Lin Shaye) has been strangled to death. Josh is suspected to have strangled her, but he convinces Renai he did not. Soon after that, things slowly get back to normal as Josh moves his family into his mother Lorraine’s (Barbara Hershey) house, but it doesn’t take long for certain objects to move around on their own. The question is, did Josh really return from the Further, or did someone else come back in his place?

Now Wan and Whannell had a lot of fun playing around with the haunted house genre with the first “Insidious,” but now they are forced to up their game with this one. “Insidious: Chapter 2” is more of a domestic thriller with a bit of astral projection and time travel thrown in to mix things up. While it does deal with the same elements which made its predecessor a success, this sequel never feels like a simple repeat of the original. Both these films were made by people who have seen just about every horror movie known to man, and they have gone out of their way to subvert all those clichés we are used to seeing. With this movie, I was never entirely sure of what to expect, and that’s just the way I want it.

Wilson, Byrne, Hershey and Simpkins are every bit as good as they were in “Insidious,” and they don’t look like they have missed a bit between the original and the sequel. Angus Simpson and Whannell also show up again as Tucker and Specs, and they provide the comic relief this sequel needs, and they never overstay their welcome.

Joining the “Insidious” franchise this time around is Steve Coulter who plays Carl, Elise’s protégé in the paranormal arts. I am not familiar with Coulter’s work, but he gives a strong performance here as he works to help the Lambert family deal with what has been haunting them so viciously. It turns out he is a journeyman actor who has made many appearances in both film and television, and his veteran status serves this part well as Carl is an expert who has dealt with these situations extensively, and this makes him very believable as someone who has seen the worst things life has to offer.

Some fans may complain about the lack of scares in “Insidious: Chapter 2,” but for me, I’m just glad this sequel kept me intrigued throughout. Whether you find it terrifying or not, it’s a film which does keep you on edge from start to finish. When the movie ends, it turns out that there just might be room for another “Insidious” sequel, and there is a sequence at the end which implies a follow up will be coming our way. But even if it doesn’t, you can be sure the spirits (evil or otherwise) will be haunting you while you sleep.

* * * out of * * * *

‘Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension’ Ends This Series with a Whimper Instead of a Bang

Paranormal Activity The Ghost Dimension poster

With “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension,” we have finally reached the end of this long running horror franchise. At least, this is what Paramount Pictures is saying. They said the same thing after “Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter” and looked what happened there. When asked to explain the end of his movie “Halloween,” John Carpenter said it shows how evil never dies. This is a perfect explanation, and it helps explain why Michael Meyers keeps coming back to Haddonfield, why Freddy Krueger continues to haunt the dreams of teenagers, why Jason Voorhees continues to hack up camp counselors, and why Pinhead continues to lure the infinitely curious to that crazy box of his. Could the ever-malevolent demon known as Toby finally be stopped once and for all?

Well, let’s hope so because “The Ghost Dimension” confirms the “Paranormal Activity” franchise has finally run out of gas to where I wished the filmmakers ended it after “The Marked Ones.” This sequel returns the series to another tale of a white suburban family terrorized by Toby, and the family keeps looking into the things which go bump in the night even as the story get progressively worse. On the upside, this sequel does attempt to answer all the questions we have about this series and doesn’t just tease us endlessly the way “Paranormal Activity 4” did, but nothing is as scary as it once was.

This movie opens with a quick throwback to the literally back-breaking finale of “Paranormal Activity 3” where young Katie and Kristi are gathered up by their grandma Lois and taken to a room where a man tells them they are a critical part of Toby’s plan. We then move forward to 2013 where we meet the Fleeges, a family comprised of Ryan (Chris J. Murray), his wife Emily (Brit Shaw), and their young daughter Leila (Ivy George). They are later joined by Ryan’s brother Mike (Dan Gill) who just broke up with his girlfriend, and also Skylar (Olivia Taylor Dudley) who is a nanny or a yoga instructor or something along those lines.

Each “Paranormal Activity” movie has a twist on the technology used to exploit the presence of the demonic Toby, and this one is no exception. Ryan and Mike end up coming across this giant video camera (and yes, they used to be that big) which actually allows them to see the spiritual forces hovering around the home which take the form of an oil slick that moves around ominously. Pretty soon, young Leila is talking to Toby because impressionable kids are easily for demons to influence, and the family comes to discover they are living in the same house that grandma Lois lived in years ago. Yes, there are no such things as coincidences in a “Paranormal Activity” movie.

Let me start with “The Ghost Dimension’s” biggest problem, it feels like a movie. The previous installments, even “Paranormal Activity 4,” never made me feel like I was watching a movie. Instead, they felt like documents of real people being haunted by forces they can’t control and which encroach mercilessly on their safety. They felt real, but here everything feels highly scripted as the actors are forced to utter a lot of exposition in an effort to explain to the audience what Toby’s big plan is. As a result, everything feels contrived, and the movie comes across as just another exercise in found footage terror.

Furthermore, the characters are frustratingly one-dimensional and incredibly idiotic to put it mildly. A lot of opportunities to make them relatable or the least but likable are blown by the screenwriters as I never came to care much about them. After a while, I became more eager to see them become devilish entertainment for Toby. I do have to say, however, that Ivy George does very good work here as Leila, and she provides “The Ghost Dimension” with some of its most haunting moments as her face becomes a mask of possession which makes her intensely unpredictable.

The real big news about “The Ghost Dimension” is it’s the first “Paranormal Activity” movie to be shown in 3D. Now I’ve seen 3D used to great effect in Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” and Gaspar Noe’s “Love,” but watching it here only reminded me of how “The Ghost Dimension” feels more like a movie and less like an experience. In the end, the extra dimension feels like a stunt which adds nothing to the proceedings.

Also, in its attempts to answer many of the questions we have about Toby, it makes this horrifically violent demon look no different from so many others in cinematic history. Just as it was with the first two “Alien” movies, the thought of the monster is far scarier than the sight of it, and seeing Toby in his demonic form just takes away from what’s frightening about him. And the explanation of Toby’s “plan” feels like something out of a dozen other horror movies.

The original “Paranormal Activity” was supposed to be a stand-alone movie. It was supposed to end with Katie dying, but Paramount Pictures decided to change this ending and made Katie look like she was invaded by some evil force. The movie’s amazing success ensured sequels would be made whether we liked it or not, but the first two actually added to the original’s ending and built up a mythology which left audiences endlessly intrigued. But watching “The Ghost Dimension” makes me realize there was no way anyone could have concluded this mythology in a satisfactory manner. The revelation of Toby’s big plan sounds like something out of a dozen other horror movies, and it made me wish I knew a lot less about him.

“Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” does leave the door open for another sequel as the demonic force takes on a new form, but this really should be the last one for a while at the very least. It’s sad to see this franchise end on a banal note as things began feeling fresh again after “The Marked Ones,” but many horror franchises tend to overstay their welcome, and “Paranormal Activity” is just the latest example. We need to face the facts; the thrill is gone.

* ½ out of * * * *

Please check out the following reviews:

Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity 2

Paranormal Activity 3

Paranormal Activity 4

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

 

‘Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones’ Sees the Franchise Making a Comeback

Paranormal Activity The Marked Ones poster

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” proves to be much, much better than “Paranormal Activity 4,” and it succeeds in reinvigorating a franchise which was starting to look like it was running on fumes. In terms of story, it’s not very different from the previous films and you do have a good idea of where the story is heading, but Christopher B. Landon who wrote the screenplays for “Paranormal Activity 2, 3 and 4” and directed this one is very deft at positioning the scares to where they come at you before you know it. Thanks to a terrific cast and a good dose of humor, it proves to be one of the best entries in the long running franchise.

“Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” is not a direct sequel to “Paranormal Activity 4,” but instead a spin-off which features a family not white-bred like all the others featured in the franchise. When the film begins, we are introduced to Jessie (Andrew Jacobs), a young Latino who has just graduated from high school along with his best friend Hector (Jorge Diaz). Soon afterwards, we see the whole family partying at their apartment complex and having a grand old time as they bid farewell to the hell that is high school.

But then they learn their downstairs neighbor has died under suspicious circumstances. With nothing better to do, Jessie and Hector break into the apartment to figure out what happened. What they discover are a bunch of items used in black magic rituals as well as all those videotapes which formed the basis of “Paranormal Activity 3.” The next day, Jessie wakes up to discover what looks like a huge bite mark on his arm, and it’s a sign that his troubles are only about to begin.

The idea to focus on a Latino family for this “Paranormal Activity” was a smart one as it gives this entry a fresh feel we really take notice of. The family presented here is a great one, and while Landon is really just out to give us a fun and scary time, he is also smart in giving us a group of Latinos not dominated by stereotypes. Some might complain the film does traffic in stereotypical behavior, but I disagree. While many have a view of inner city neighborhoods as being violent hellholes, few seem to realize how close knit the families who live in them are, and many of them are not involved in a life of crime.

Part of me was hoping the filmmakers would dare to film the whole movie in Spanish with subtitles, but since this is a “found footage” movie, they are apparently not allowed to do so. Still, this was a small complaint in the large scheme of things.

Another one of the main differences between “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” and the previous films is the amount of humor in it. This is not to say the other films lacked humor, but I was surprised at how much I found myself laughing with this particular entry. A lot of this is thanks to Diaz who comes close to stealing the movie as Hector. Watching him get all super excited at the things happening to and around his friend Jessie are a gas to watch, and he ends up becoming the real star of this movie as a result.

I also have to say that the ending of “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” is one I did not see coming. It ends up turning the whole franchise on its head as you wonder what realm these “Paranormal Activity” movies truly exist in. After watching this spin-off, it’s clear the series is not simply relegated to the found footage genre.

Landon, who finally gets to direct a “Paranormal Activity” movie after having written many of them, knows we have become familiar with where to expect the scares to happen. To his credit, he plays on what we expect to see and provides us with some jump out of your seat moments we don’t quite see coming. Whether or not you think this particular entry is or is not as scary as the first three, it definitely has its moments if you patiently wait for them.

I got to see “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” with a preview audience, and their reaction was contagious as was their enthusiasm. Many movie franchises, regardless of the genre, live and die in regards to how audiences react to them, and this one shows there is still life left in it. Just when you think this series has reached its peak, this entry makes you excited for what will happen next, and I am ever so curious to see which direction this one will take from here. That’s a very good thing as this series works best on what fans are not expecting.

For me, I’m still waiting for the “Paranormal Activity” movie where the executives of Paramount Pictures become victims of similar hauntings as a result of profiting off the tragedies which have befallen the families featured in these films. If they want people to keep believing these found footage movies are real, then they should seriously consider this because the franchise appears to be heading in this particular direction.

* * * out of * * * *

Check out the interview I did with the stars of “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” which I did for the website We Got This Covered down below:

‘Paranormal Activity 3’ Avoids the Curse of the Prequel

Paranormal Activity 3 movie poster

In a lot of ways, “Paranormal Activity 3” shouldn’t work. It’s the third movie in an astonishingly popular series which eventually replaced “Saw” as the official franchise for the month of October each year. The third in a trilogy is also when the series starts running out of creative juices and becomes bound by an increasingly worn out formula. Maybe it’s time to move on to the next big thing in horror, right? Not quite.

Despite the inescapable feeling of déjà vu, “Paranormal Activity 3” still has the power to scare and unnerve viewers, and I knew exactly what I was doing when I watched it at night. This one comes from the makers of “Catfish,” and they follow the familiar found footage setup to where nothing may be new, but they still generate a number of jump-out-of-your-seat moments which will freak out even the most jaded of moviegoers.

Whereas “Paranormal Activity 2” was a prequel and a sequel, this third movie is a flat-out prequel which takes place 18 years before the events of the original. Sisters Katie and Kristi, played by Katie Featherston and Sprague Grayden in the previous films, are seen here as children who live with their mother Julie (Lauren Bittner) and stepdad Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith). Things get weird, however, when Kristi gets an invisible friend named Toby, and strange occurrences develop in their home with increasing volatility.

Since this prequel takes place in 1988, the filmmakers get to work technology now seen as prehistoric as this was a time of video cameras and VHS tapes. Part of it serves as a needless reminder of how Betamax got its ass kicked years ago. While the technology is limited compared to what the characters had at their disposal in the previous films, this forces everyone here to get creative with what they have.

Once again, the man of the house (and it’s always the man) sets up a barrage of video cameras in various rooms to figure out what craziness is going on in order to put a stop to it. The only disadvantage is VHS tapes only allow for 6 hours of recording at the most. But somehow the spirits do make their appearance before the tape runs out which is rather convenient for everyone involved.

The one new thing in “Paranormal Activity 3” is how Dennis comes up with the idea of attaching one video camera to the base of a fan. As the camera veers from side to side, we have another reason to be tense about what we’re watching. Will there be something on the other side about to jump out at us? This quickly becomes a clever device which distinguishes this film from its predecessors.

“Paranormal Activity 3” does, however, get off to a shaky start. There were a bunch of cheap scares which, whether they worked or not, had me worrying this prequel would be overrun with them. While they provided the audience with a several good jolts, it made me wonder if the series was beginning to descend into self-parody. Once this happens, the series might as well end. Fortunately, things straighten out as the happenings inside the house become increasingly unrelenting in their viciousness.

There are many moments which had my hair standing on end. We see furniture moving around by itself, a character running into something not visible, and someone’s hair getting grabbed. “Paranormal Activity 3” may seem like business as usual, but this business is still producing terrifying moments just as things are beginning to look old. Like the previous entries, I’m not entirely sure how the filmmakers pulled off certain special effects (the one at the very end is very painful to witness), and I don’t want to know for fear of breaking the illusion.

I recently watched “The Thing” which was a prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 film. It reminded me of the problems with prequels in general as you know from the start who is going to live and die, and the suspense gets diluted as a result. The advantage “Paranormal Activity 3” has is, while we know the little girls will survive and live on in future installments, we aren’t sure what the fate of the adults will be. Katie and Kristi only reveal so much about what happened to them as children in the second film, so we are left to guess if any adults hanging around these kids will ever live to see tomorrow. Had the girls revealed the exact chronology of events, this prequel would have been screwed from the get go.

Many critics have voiced that they have had their fill of the “Paranormal Activity” films it, but the formula behind them still works very well and has me pinned to my seat. That invisible spirit can still scare the crap out of me, and it made me look forward to “Paranormal Activity 4.” Granted, Paramount Pictures and Oren Peli can only keep this franchise going for so long, but they have made it this far without losing any of the power which made the original so damn scary. Here’s hoping the filmmakers don’t trip over themselves in the future. We all know what happened to “Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows.”

By the way, you’ll never look at a Bloody Mary (the drink I mean) the same way after this prequel is over. Watch the movie and you’ll see what I mean.

* * * out of * * * *

‘Paranormal Activity 2’ Proves to be as Effective as the Original

Paranormal Activity 2 movie poster

We had every reason to expect the sequel to the surprise hit “Paranormal Activity” would be horrid. Movies like this come out of nowhere and make more money than anyone could have ever expected, so a sequel has to follow, right? God forbid the money train stops at just one movie! Even in the new millennium, greed is still king. Most people were expecting this to be as terrible as “The Blair Witch Project 2: Book of Shadows” which itself was a giant insult to its predecessor, hence giving more fuel to the “Blair Witch” haters who somehow felt tricked out of their money. Besides, how can you expect a story like this to remain fresh, let alone terrifying? We weren’t expecting what got hurled at us last time, literally and figuratively speaking, but now we feel more prepared than ever to scan every scene of this sequel in an effort to predict when the scares come.

Well, it is to my astonishment to say “Paranormal Activity 2” is no “Blair Witch 2.” Heck, it’s not even an “Open Water 2” or a “Jaws 2” or even an “Exorcist 2” for that matter. This sequel turns out to be as scary and unnerving as the original, and it respects Oren Peli’s film for what it was and does nothing to detract from it. In fact, this sequel adds additional layers to the original which enhances the experience of watching it all the more.

“Paranormal Activity 2” opens up in Carlsbad, California where we meet Dan and his second wife Kristin as they arrive home with their newborn son, Hunter. Once there, we also get to meet Ali, Dan’s daughter from another marriage, the family housekeeper and nanny Martine, and the loyal family dog Abby. A couple of days later after going out of town, they come back to find the house ransacked, but nothing has been stolen. As a result, Dan has security cameras installed to make his family feel safe, and maybe even catch whoever did this. After that, things get increasingly scary as the ominous hum which haunted Katie’s and Micah’s abode starts to show its presence in the family dwellings, and things begin to go bump in the night. Just like the original, the men never take the women or their fears seriously, and it makes the rest of us guys look like bad boyfriends and husbands.

Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat return from the first movie, but Katie is the one who is more prominently featured. It turns out Kristin is Katie’s sister, and they both shared a scary past as they were terrorized by an evil spirit. Both are hesitant to talk to explain what they went through as children because the thought of it coming back is too terrifying to consider.

The really clever thing about “Paranormal Activity 2” is it turns out to be a prequel as well as a sequel. It takes place several weeks before the events portrayed in the original, and the ending more or less coincides with what Katie and Micah went through. This, I thought, was an inspired decision because it gives more weight to not just this film, but the original as well. This is not just some dumb follow up with the same old story filled with unrelated characters making the same stupid mistakes. The fate of this family is very much interlocked with the fate of Katie and Micah, and their inevitable doom makes this sequel all the more haunting.

Whereas “Paranormal Activity” had just the one camera which Micah put in his and Katie’s bedroom for the most part, this second film has us looking through various security cameras which record the house from different angles, each revealing little things going on around the house. Then there are other scenes where characters are holding the camera and making us see everything as they search through the house late at night. The security cameras by themselves present images freaky enough to gives us goose pimples, but when we get the first-person perspective, things get even more intense than they already are.

You know what really gets to me about these movies? The silence around the house and the lack of a film score. For me, being alone in a room or a house without any noise gets my anxiety up and running as I suspect something bad is about to occur which I won’t be able to prevent from happening. Both “Paranormal Activity” movies understand this anxiety perfectly and play on it without ever relying on blood and gore. Plus, your home is where you and your family are supposed to feel the safest. What happens when the safety of your home is violated? Where can you feel safe after that?

The choice of director for “Paranormal Activity 2” is a surprise and not who I expected. Tod Williams is best known for directing “The Door in The Floor,” a criminally under seen drama with powerful performances by Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger. How the producers thought of Williams for this film is beyond me, but he gives this sequel a strong suspenseful tone, and he keeps the tension at a high pitch throughout. Williams also gives us several excellent jump out of your seat moments which will make your hair stand on end, especially the one in the kitchen (trust me, you’ll know it when you see it).

The performances are nothing spectacular, but they are perfect for a film like this. I also have to give special props to Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat who still succeed in acting ever so naturally in front of the camera. After the first film, you’d think they would have a tougher time with this and be even more self-conscious than they were before. But they both act normal as if the first movie never happened which I found very impressive.

I’m not sure I can go on describing “Paranormal Activity 2” for fear of giving away too much. I was pleasantly surprised at how effective this sequel was because I expected it to be nothing more than a scam designed to produce a bigger profit than the original. The surprise of the first “Paranormal Activity” is gone, and there’s not much which is new brought to the material here. This sequel also has end credits which the original did not, although there is an elongated pause for those who want to escape the theater before they come up. But the premise is still very scary for those who were infinitely terrified by the first film. I left the theater with my nerves jangling, feeling very much like I did after I saw the original. A good deal of care was put into making this sequel work because everyone was prepared to tear it apart even before they saw it.

If you liked the first “Paranormal Activity,” I think you’ll like the sequel. For those of you who didn’t like it and can’t understand what the fuss was all about, don’t even bother.

I am also proud to say I didn’t make the same mistake of watching it before I went to bed like I did with the original. I saw it in the early afternoon when the sun was still out. It still freaked me out though. Getting to sleep that evening was not any easier.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Paranormal Activity,’ a Movie Not to Be Watched Before you Go to Bed

Paranormal Activity movie poster

“I know something about opening windows and doors

I know how to move quietly to creep across creaky wooden floors

I know where to find precious things in all your cupboards and drawers

Slipping the clippers

Slipping the clippers through the telephone wires

The sense of isolation inspires

Inspires me

I like to feel the suspense when I’m certain you know I am there

I like you lying awake, your baited breath charging the air

I like the touch and the smell of all the pretty dresses you wear

Intruder’s happy in the dark

Intruder come

Intruder come and leave his mark, leave his mark

I am the intruder…”

                                                                                                       -from “Intruder” by Peter Gabriel

                                                                         (sounds even scarier when he sings it in German!)

I finally got around to watching “Paranormal Activity” on Blu-Ray, and I truly regret not seeing this movie while it was on the big screen. How great it must have been to take in the audience’s reaction; watching all the ladies shriek and recoil into their lovers’ arms, and seeing guys who think they are so fearless jump out of their seats during some of this movie’s scariest scenes. I imagine the experience would have been like when I first saw “The Blair Witch Project” back in Irvine at a crowded art house movie theater. The last scene of that indie horror film had the audience completely freaked out, wondering if what we saw was real or fiction.

“Paranormal Activity” is an ingenious little horror movie which cost only $15,000 (excluding marketing costs of course) to make and made over $140 million dollars worldwide. It has joined the likes of “The Blair Witch Project” and John Carpenter’s “Halloween” as one of the most profitable independent films ever made and was released through Paramount Pictures which employed a unique strategy where audiences had to “demand” for it to be shown in their area via the internet. This strategy is probably what kept me from seeing the movie initially because prints of it had already been sent out to theaters all over the country, so the whole idea of participation was just an illusion to get people excited as they are led to believe they have the power. But getting past the overblown promotion which threatened to upstage it completely, “Paranormal Activity” is one of the most unnerving horror movies I have ever seen.

The word paranormal is a term used to describe unusual experiences that are outside of science’s ability to explain or measure (I think Dan Aykroyd has a PHD in this). This is exactly what’s going on in the home of Micah and Katie, a normal looking couple when we first meet them. Micah has recently purchased a video camera to capture what happens while they sleep at night. Katie has confessed to Micah and a psychic that a ghost has been haunting her since she was little, and she now believes it has followed here to their house in San Diego. They are both told by the psychic this ghost is a demon which feeds off of negative energy, and it will pursue poor Katie everywhere she goes. From the start, you know this is not going to end well for anybody.

Micah Sloat, like Katie Featherston, uses his first name for the character he plays. With him parading around the house with the camera, he could have easily been a character in George Romero’s “Diary of The Dead.” Like those college students studying film, Micah seems more interested in catching paranormal activity happening more than in helping Katie until later on, and he complete annoys Katie in the process. But he soon discovers there is a mysterious force intruding on their well-being as they sleep, and it puts them in the most vulnerable position possible.

Don’t worry, I’m not going into a scene for scene breakdown where I give away the best moments of “Paranormal Activity” as it is full of many hair-raising, jump out of your seat moments which deserve to be discovered with your own eyes if you dare. With a budget similar to the cost of hiring a celebrity bodyguard, director Oren Peli utilizes special effects very simple in their construction, yet incredibly effective when used. By filming in a typical suburban house, it feels no different from homes we grew up in. There’s nothing extravagant shown here, and that’s exactly the point. The more this home reminds you of your own, the scarier this movie becomes.

The suspense and tension which continually escalates throughout “Paranormal Activity” is accomplished through the power of suggestion. It does not contain the gallons of blood and gore most horror films employ. Not that I have any issues with gory movies, but what makes a horror movie all the more effective is when the filmmakers don’t you show everything. It’s what you think you see that really messes with your head as it forces your own fears and superstitions onto these characters throughout the film’s 90-minute running time.

Watching “Paranormal Activity” reminded me of a story my dad said he heard as a kid which scared him half to death. It involved some guy on TV talking directly to the camera about how that sound you heard behind you was probably nothing, or so you would think. But what if it was something sinister? What if that feeling of someone coming up from behind you was not just a feeling? Anyway, the more my dad talked about, the scarier it seemed.

Anyway, I bring this up because “Paranormal Activity” gets at a fear so universal and primal as we try to get a good night’s sleep, something which seems impossible these days without Ambien. Those little noises you hear right around you… What if they’re not just noises? What if someone is in the room with you? What if you didn’t lock all the doors and bolt all the windows? Peli plays will all the sounds which keep us awake at night, and the shocks these characters end up enduring easily resemble ones we have all experienced. It was a huge mistake to watch this film at night before I went to bed. I figured it would not be so scary as it was said to be while in theaters, but then again, I made the same mistake with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

Movies often benefit from a music score which can really escalate the powerful emotions the director has already captured. But as “The China Syndrome” and Michael Haneke’s “Cache” demonstrated, sometimes they benefit by not having one. I honestly think “Paranormal Activity” would have suffered if it had a score as one would have made several moments seem anticlimactic and premature as a result. The sound of loud footsteps from someone you’re not sure you know is scary enough as it is.

What Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston do act as much as they inhabit their characters here. They are not called upon to be Meryl Streep or Daniel Day Lewis. If we were to actually catch them acting, the illusion of the movie would have been completely destroyed. What both succeed in doing is acting naturally, and they make us recognize ourselves in them. We quickly come to recognize their fear and relate to it in a way we would rather not experience on a daily basis. These two were complete unknowns when this movie was released, and this elevates the sheer terror we feel for them as casting known actors would have taken away from the proceedings.

I also have to give credit to Mark Fredrichs who plays the psychic who visits Micah and Katie’s home. This role could have been an absolute cliché, one guy who comes across as a madman no one ever fully believes until it is too late. Seriously, this guy could have been just like that crazy old man from the first and second “Friday the 13th” movies who kept warning all those camp counselors, “You’re doomed! YOU’RE ALL DOOMED!!!!” But Fredrichs makes this character into a down to earth guy whose fear is quite palpable once he enters the peaceful looking home. Mark never overdoes anything here, and he more natural he is, the scarier this movie becomes. While the psychic is only on screen for a brief time, it is long enough to where he makes a forceful impression of impending doom.

They say “silence is golden,” but what is truly golden about “Paranormal Activity” is how silence is used so effectively. We’ve all had nights where we lie in bed and hear something fall in another part of the house, but maybe that something didn’t fall on its own. Maybe someone pushed it off to get our attention, to lure us out of our safety zone. Most movies are jam packed today with noise, but Peli recognizes how powerful the lack of sound can be, and he uses it to brilliant effect. I don’t know about you, but I need to be listening to something like soft music as I fall asleep. The quietness of the night has my mind racing when it should be resting.

Some will despise “Paranormal Activity” as nothing more than a gimmick while lacking the blood, gore, and occasional impalements and decapitations they feel are mandatory in a horror film. Others will hail it as a new horror masterpiece which will leave audiences extremely unsettled after leaving the theater. For me, this movie is definitely on the same level with “The Blair Witch Project,” a movie this one owes a huge debt to. It doesn’t try to blow us away with an overabundance of special effects, but with simplicity as the ordinary things are far more terrifying than monsters who wear hockey masks. Seeing a chandelier swaying back and forth definitely throws off my balance and makes me feel wide awake because I get so used to seeing it staying so still. Seeing a chandelier move from side to side in this movie gives the events an especially unsettling feeling.

Okay, I’m going to stop writing about this movie now. The thought of it is freaking me out, and I’m going to end up ripping down my shower curtain if I’m not careful.

* * * * out of * * * *