Being fearful comes naturally to us. We need not be conditioned for it. However, bravery, courage and other virtues seek example. Fear stands on its own. Tall, unfettered bonded to our psyche naturally. All great horror movies revel in the fact that ‘it is not about what you show, but what you not show’. They exploit the human imagination and spur it on to unlock the normally inaccessible sets of thoughts and images. Peli knows the fear of unknown is the most pronounced of all and hence builds anticipation like a slow poison with a lot of care and craft. He makes sure the movie doesn’t startle us all of a sudden one moment and fizzles in the remaining parts. The emotions don’t vacillate in crests and troughs here, but rather take a forever depressing linear path which sometimes make it quite a task to even tolerate this movie.
The movie’s sparsely used narrative style transports one seamlessly into the couple’s bedroom. Not like a voyeur, but as an intelligent and keen observer who has the unfortunate advantage of seeing things when the potential victims laze defenseless. Peli hands us the camera when we are least prepared for it. And he keeps putting the onus on us again and again, and we succumb to it unwillingly, because just like Micah and Katie there is no escaping from this. The audience faces the same predicament as the protagonists and it is the synchronization of fear that binds the audience and the protagonists together in an unsettling, stifling fashion.
The use of hand held camera and its often unpleasant jerky movements aggravates tension, for it restricts one’s field of view, and hence amplifies the fear of unknown. When the camera moves through a partially lit living room, the field of view worsens further, anticipation escalates dangerously, and one almost wants to implore the characters to switch on the lights and then continue their quest. At this time, our sympathies doesn’t lie with them, because it is our fear that robs us of any power of lending sympathy. In this way, Paranormal Activity erases the difference between what happens on screen and what happens off it.
It is interesting to note how otherwise mundane, insignificant things add on to the terror here. The place where the camera is planted in room provides the maximum field of view. And once the camera is alive, nothing happening in the house is merely an activity, but rather an indication of impending gloom. Also, the camera is agile and observant when the protagonists are totally defenseless, and becomes reluctant to give us whole peek into sets of action when the protagonists are active themselves. The motive and action of camera is totally opposite to what the characters do, thus connecting and alienating audience at will.
Generally, a lot is said, discussed and dissected about the role of background music with respect to horror movies. Peli adopts the contrarion approach by its minimalist use. The only appreciable moments it registers its presence are the scenes filmed in couple’s bedroom when everything is at standstill except the audience’s expectations of what is to come. The crescendo aspiring to reach its loud climax complement those scenes really well.
It is an important movie because of audience’s relationship with it. It sneaks quietly in that remote, inaccessible area of one’s mind like an unwelcome visitor and stays there. In times when majority of mediocre horror movies beg for audience’s attention, this one dominates the mindset ruthlessly even when the movie is long over. Give this movie a chance to play with your imagination. The sadist in you would thank you for that.