A cleverly marketed mock-nonfiction thriller that unfolds with no opening or closing credits, only a title card thanking the families of those glimpsed onscreen, Paranormal Activity works best as an experiential exercise in shared skittishness. The story concerns a suburban San Diego couple, Katie (Katie Featherston, oozing real-girl relatability and resembling a corn-fed Jenna Fischer) and Micah (Micah Sloat), who, having recently moved in together, find themselves besieged by increasingly intrusive nighttime visits from an unseen and possibly demonic presence. A consultation with a psychic (Mark Friedrichs) doesn’t resolve matters, so as sleep-time eeriness is captured by a camera set up by technophile Micah, further conversation reveals Katie has been experiencing such hauntings for nearly two decades, since before her house burned down as a child.
Using first-person camerawork indicative of a genre trend (see both Cloverfield and Quarantine), writer-director Oren Peli trades in escalating uneasiness more than jump-scares. The dramatic hold of the duo’s arguments over how to best deal with the situation eventually starts to wane, and the back story fails to satisfy in any conventional way. But the interesting thing is the manner in which Peli consistently wrings deep-focus dread from a narrow hallway outside the couple’s bedroom. For the full, original review, from Screen International, click here. (Paramount, R, 85 minutes)