If you’re thinking about watching “Paranormal Activity,” do it – but do it right: Wait in line for hours to catch a midnight screening; sit down in a packed theater with no legroom whatsoever and strangers breathing down your neck; laugh when the girl in the front row screams when the door starts swaying; grumble to your friends about when the “scary stuff” is going to start; laugh again. Relax, you can handle it. And then scream. Scream like you never have before while the guy next to you starts hyperventilating uncontrollably. Scream because your heart feels like it has just dropped to the ground and your mouth doesn’t know what else to do. You want to cover your eyes, but you can’t. You want to leave the theater, but you can’t. All you can do is scream. If this sounds a tad exaggerated, go watch “Paranormal Activity” tonight.

“Paranormal Activity”

At the State
Paramount

“Paranormal Activity” returns to the essence of what a horror movie should be: Without backstories and supernatural special effects, it’s a low-low-budget ($11,000, to be exact) movie with a straightforward plot that can still pull you in and never let go. The film has become a nationwide phenomenon, advertising itself as “the scariest movie since ‘The Exorcist,’ ” but it lies in different territory than its supposed predecessor. Rather than providing any sort of religious exposition, “Paranormal Activity” jumps right into the action, relying solely on scare value. There’s a genuine tension in this film – the kind that builds up drop by drop until, all of a sudden, the terror practically explodes out of the screen. In this effect, “Paranormal Activity” is highly successful at what it sets out to do: scare the shit out of you.

It’s nearly impossible to explain any aspect of plot in this film without giving too much away. In a nutshell, a couple moves into a new house and tries to investigate the “paranormal activities” going on around them: faucets turning on, light bulbs flickering, doors spontaneously shutting, etc. They hypothesize a demon might somehow be linked to these events. Pandemonium ensues.

The movie is filmed with the worst camerawork known to man, which makes it all the more convincing. Like its spiritual precursor “The Blair Witch Project,” “Paranormal Activity” adopts a documentary style that makes viewers half-believe these events are actually happening. And like “Blair Witch,” there isn’t a lot of gore involved. The movie gets by with few special effects and little blood, proving that imagination can be much more powerful than visuals.

The film’s greatest attribute is that it’s actually funny, so while audiences are waiting for the climax to poke its head out, they can laugh, too. The main character plays comically pedestrian supernatural music before the psychic arrives. When the psychic tells the couple that the demon feeds off negative energy, he quips: “We shouldn’t let your mother come over anymore.” However, the humor is only there to lull moviegoers into a sense of complacency – make no mistake: Many will scream, and they will scream loud.

Thankfully, these deep-set fears will not last long after the movie experience. Essentially, “Paranormal Activity” will scare, but it won’t scar. Having arrived home, most viewers will still be able to climb into their bed, turn off the lights (except maybe one distant desk lamp, just in case) and not have nightmares. The previously ghastly images will fade away into a distant memory. That is exactly the kind of movie “Paranormal Activity” is: a neat little horror movie packaged in an easily disposable case – ultimately satisfying, but relievingly forgettable.

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