Some people have bad dreams. Some even have night terrors. But both of those would be a welcome break for Katie. Since she was 8 she’s had what amounts to an evil spirit siphoning off her slumber.
Nobody else has actually seen this thing or shared in Katie’s horrors. But she’s convinced that a demonic boogieman burned her house down when she was a kid. And since then she’s suffered with nightmares and had a recurring sense of a shadowy figure lurking at the foot of her bed.
Of course, the now twentysomething Katie neglected to mention any of that to her boyfriend Micah before he moved in. (How do you bring up the topic of a demonic entity that lounges around in your bedroom?) Even after he finds out, though, her knucklehead beau doesn’t seem to mind all that much. To him, the stories are just a great excuse to go out and buy a cool video camera so he can try to capture shadowy thumps and bumps in the night. Not that he really believes in any of this stuff.
Katie, however, believes. And she gets a bit frantic after a visiting psychic reports that negative energy or attempts at poltergeist communication could make things worse. So Katie begs Micah to drop the late-night videoing.
It’s too late.
Micah’s already recorded the bedroom door moving all on its own at 2 a.m. And he’s getting excited. He’s determined to "solve the problem." So it’s full steam ahead on the paranormal express.
In spite of some of his goofy choices, it’s apparent that Micah has strong feelings of protection and love for his girlfriend. As their situation becomes progressively more dangerous, he puts his wellbeing (and eventually his life) on the line to stand by Katie and save her from her spiritual stalker.
The whole premise of Paranormal Activity revolves around dark supernatural happenings taking place in a young couple’s home. The frightened pair never turns to the church or God for help, however. Instead, Micah and Katie consult a professional psychic who professes to be an expert in hauntings perpetrated by "human spirits."
The psychic says he quickly senses that the threat is demonic in nature. And that’s when he warns Katie not to "encourage" it by giving it any attention. He strongly states that using such "communication" tools as Ouija boards might have disastrous results.
Katie listens and takes the advice to heart. Micah doesn’t. He pledges to obey Katie’s new rules about dealing with the demon, and his oath ends with, "So help me God!" But he's already borrowed a Ouija board, so the damage is already done. (Its pointer ultimately begins to move on its own and it bursts into flames.)
Katie talks of praying as a child that the demon would go away. Almost catatonic, she clutches a small wooden cross so tightly that her hand bleeds.
Katie wears a number of formfitting tank tops and T-shirts (with lightweight shorts) in and out of bed. She reveals cleavage on a number of occasions. Micah wears a T-shirt and boxers to bed.
Early on, Micah tries to tempt Katie into performing a striptease and having sex with him on-camera, but she refuses his advances. He does fire up the camera after having sex—he is shirtless and she has the sheet pulled up over her chest. We see them kiss several times. They spoon as they sleep. Micah zooms the camera in on Katie’s clothed backside as she walks up a staircase. And he tries to peek into the bathroom with it as she’s sitting on the toilet. (She slams the door.)
A few illustrations in a book on demonology are of horned creatures with bare female breasts.
Doors bang and heavy things thump and crash through a variety of jump scenes, but the violence connected to all the smashing and screaming is, with one exception, out of the camera’s frame. That exception involves Micah being picked up and thrown through a door.
In other cases we see the results of the offscreen thumps and shrieks. After being dragged out of the room by an invisible presence, for instance, Katie lifts her shirt to reveal teeth marks on her lower back. We also see her in a T-shirt covered in blood.
Crude or Profane Language
Close to 40 f-words. A dozen s-words. "D‑‑n," "a‑‑" and "h‑‑‑" pop up. God’s and Jesus’ names are each misused about a half-dozen times. (God’s is combined once with "d‑‑n.")
Drug and Alcohol Content
Back in 1999 a little independent horror flick called The Blair Witch Project took moviegoers by surprise. That shaky-handed, one-camera pseudo docu-thriller was presented as an amateur movie project made by three students who supposedly disappeared during its making. The film itself was mediocre. But the viral popularity that sprung from its groundbreaking use of the Internet—including a Web campaign that suggested the footage it contained was the real deal—made the little film into a mega-blockbuster.
Paranormal Activity has very clearly pulled its filming and distribution strategy from that same successful playbook.
Reportedly shot by writer/director Oren Peli in his own house on a miniscule budget of only $15,000 (Blair Witch came in at $60,000), the mostly ad-libbed piece was created in a week. When the big studio boys picked it up, they were intent on re-shooting something more polished for the theatrical run. But after test-screening the original, the audience’s gasping reaction changed their minds.
That led to midnight-only showings of the pic in a handful of college towns. And Internet blitzes on Facebook pages and Twitter. Voilà, box office gold scraped from the sheer face of the cultural cliff. Impressed, an executive from a rival studio told Deadline Hollywood, "Look out, cuz there’s a freight train coming, and Paramount is going to make a TON of cash on this pickup. Cuz they ain’t spending anything on it, and who knows where the ceiling is!"
Considering the fact that this slowly paced, one camera, low-budgeter eschews CGI special effects for long minutes spent watching the two central characters sleep (Coming next summer! Grass grows in Vermont!), its preternatural popularity may seem totally unbelievable. In fact, on paper it feels, er, yawn-inducing at best.
But the simplicity of the presentation somehow works as it plucks at viewers’ primal fears. The claustrophobic feel of a little tripod-bound camera watching two defenseless people—separated from the evil supernatural happenings around them by only a thin cotton sheet—delivers a very visceral creepiness.
That doesn’t, however, translate to: "Wrangle up the whippersnappers, Ma. We’re goin’ to an old-time skeery flick!" Because in spite of the lack of Saw-style gore, this is still a pretty messy R-rater. We are dealing with demonic stuff here, after all. And the frequently exploding f-bombs are dropped with the careless abandon of a world war.
Would Hitchcock, were he directing now, have laced The Birds with bombastic obscenities like that? I can only hope not.