Arriving on a wave of carefully orchestrated viral hype, Paranormal Activity lacks the conceptual elegance of its obvious precursor, The Blair Witch Project. The movie invites us into the home of a couple (Featherston and Sloat) conveniently saddled with the same names as the actors who play them. Katie suspects a haunting, so in what’s now a time-honored tradition, they’ve grabbed a camcorder and elected to film everything. While superior to inept would-be Blairs like Open Water, Paranormal Activity often has the feel of a film-school exercise in which the object is to wring maximum suspense from rudimentary tools.
Still, there aren’t many films that have the power to scare you with the sound of a creaking door, and it’s hard not to admire the way Paranormal Activity makes a virtue of simplicity. The opening scenes, which suggest nothing so much as a mumblecore Blair Witch, are eye-gougingly boring and slapdash—but that’s the point. In its most effective steal, the movie makes brilliant use of a fixed camera. As we wait, trapped with the tripod in Micah and Katie’s bedroom, wondering what just happened downstairs, it’s easy to forgive the movie’s debts.