Paranormal Activity

4/4/12 – Film Theory

It could be argued that Paranormal Activity directed by Oren Perli features very simplistic and minimal effects, which still manage to frighten or surprise the mass audience. The film features a young couple, Katie and Micah who are constantly haunted by an evil spirit within the house that is reluctant to surrender for the possession of Katie’s body.

The viewer is unable to see what is haunting the couple, only the dark shadows that appear at night to disturb Katie and Micah while they’re sleeping. Each scene is documented through a video camera, which may provide a realistic effect. The spirit is reduced down to simple shapes, shadows or outlines, which only become recognisable to the viewer within the night scenes.

It could be argued that the filming is very basic and the camera only focuses upon two characters throughout the entire film. Paranormal Activity does not feature overwhelming special effects, excessive amount of blood or gore and the film relies upon very minimal or simplistic elements to structure the narrative.

The colours are desaturated through the setting of the camera and there is no music throughout the film, which provides a level of anticipation. From a personal perspective, Paranormal Activity is a perfect example of Minimalism in contemporary cinema.

Hartmut Obendorf in Minimalism: Designing and Simplicity refers to a very popular saying “less is more”. In my opinion, Paranormal Activity features a strong connection with this particular quote. The camera reveals a everyday suburban household and the filming is quite similar to video surveillance.

The colour, music, composition, furniture and decoration is reduced to a minimum, which significantly emphasise the lingering shadows late at night. Every element has been reduced to a simplistic format, which also intensifies the final scene, which suddenly occurs simultaneously.

This was my second time watching the film and I began to question whether the basic or minimal techniques in Paranormal Activity produce a more frightening response compared to a grotesque and gory horror film. I would argue that the film leaves fragments to the viewer’s own imagination, who then has to piece together the sequences. It is the unknown or the figure that is unrecognisable that becomes the most frightening aspect within the film.

Katie does murder her boyfriend at the very end of the film, although the viewer is unable to witness the scene. Is the viewer able to imagine death through Micah’s shout and the erratic noises from the lounge room? Is the viewer able to simulate an image of death through the mind without observing or witnessing an actual image?

Oren Peli. “Paranormal Activity “, 86 Minutes. USA: Dreamworks, 2009

Hartmut, Obendorf. Minimalism: Designing Simplicity.  New York: Springer, 2009.

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