Horror nuts may have heard about Paranormal Activity years ago (it was made in '06) but it's only now gone mainstream, thanks to the determination of writer/director Oren Peli and his producers. With Paramount's millions behind them, the American multiplexes can't get enough of these lo-fi scares, told via Blair Witch/Cloverfield-style 'found video tapes'. Here's what you need to now:
1. Everything about PA is minimal. It's set completely in one house (Peli's own pad, actually) and it's simply home footage of a couple (Micah & Katie) investigating a possible poltergeist. They record everything, including sticking their camera on a tripod in their bedroom at night, then watch back looking for weird stuff.
2. Weird stuff is DEFINITELY found but the pic keeps everything believable. The grainy camera footage helps, so does the down-to-earth acting (from two unknowns). Mainly though, it's the pace. At first, Katie and Micah only notice tiny things; a door closes a little bit at 3am, their car keys move from the worktop to the floor. They're freaked out... yet not massively. But the grip of whatever is in their house tightens and tensions become unbearable.
3. Crucial to this is the repetition of one shot - the static camera in their bedroom, recording night after night. The couple sleep, their door enticingly open. Night-time noises are heard. Was it just the pipes? And are those footsteps on the staircase? A shadow on the wall? You can never be sure. We see this same shot umpteen times over umpteen nights, each time something a little more odd happens. It's a shot I began to dread. A lot of the things it records are banal - Katie getting up at 2am and staring at her boyfriend for an hour and a half (thankfully, we see that on fast forward) but it's precisely that banality that frazzles your nerve endings. Minimalism has never been so unsettling.
4. The horror gets bigger but the pic remains a masterpiece of eliciting thrills from what you don't see rather than what you do. Events seem at a distance. Sounds are heard a long way off. You feel like a helpless voyeur as the initial bubbliness of the film descends into pure, ice-cold terror. Watching someone's personal recording makes you feel privileged to be so close to the action and yet you're not entirely sure what you see. If only you could get closer... and yet you don't want to be too close. As a viewer you never get comfortable.
5. In other words, it scared the living crap out of me. Seriously. It hooks you in and try as you might to not buy into it, the whole thing just feels so NORMAL. Such a style may have come from necessary budget restrictions rather than some great theory of film directing but whatever, it delivers. Small-time movie, big-time screams.
It's out 27th November.