Not sure where to start with this movie - so let's start with marketing. I first heard of Paranormal Activity from Twitter of all things, and TweetYourScream is still a great way to catch quick reviews and special deals for the movie.
In this way, the comparisons between this film and Blair Witch aren't slight. People like to slag The Blair Witch Project has overhyped handycam nonsense - but I still remember when it was a highly successful marketing effort pushing the film as real footage, a truly impressive guerrilla hoax just as much as it was guerrilla film-making. The problem is that in that day and age, hype will outdo your hoax and eventually everyone wonders why anyone called this the greatest horror movie they've ever seen.
Moral of the story? Hoaxes are fun for horror. Hype isn't. Look over just the shoulder of Paranormal Activity to The Fourth Kind which is in the middle of just such a dynamic. Paranormal, however, makes such good use of Twitter and Facebook that the hype is very streamlined, and not anywhere near as out of hand as Blair Witch saw.
So how is the movie itself? Once again we have "found footage" from some people - this time a young couple who discovers things in their suburban home isn't as calm as they thought. There is some opinion that the plot starts too slow, but I was rather impressed that we get a nearly complete frame of the premise in the very early scenes.
Right here I want to call a break and give a quick recommendation. Just go see this movie. Unless what you've read so far is really turning you off - just go see it. It may not be the scariest movie ever. Might not even be the scariest this year - but it is one of the most unique and is really well done. It's an excellent spookhouse, especially for the ears. I was scared. The Girl even enjoyed it and she hated Blair Witch.
Thing is - don't go looking for info. Don't go to YouTube. Don't go to Wikipedia. It's not that there is a surprise ending or anything, but the more of a blank slate you have, the better. In fact, from what I hear some of the YouTube videos and online trailers would really spoil the movie (as bad as the cover of Quarantine). Don't think about it, just go see it.
Then come back here when you're done.
OK, back? Highlight the rest of this post to read it.
For me, what was really effective about the movie is the slow progression of the demon's activities - but especially the use of audio cues and sound effects. That heavy bass was a presence which acted as a layer on top of the invisible force at work.
Another comparison between this and Blair Witch is the that part of tension is the breakdown between the characters. This is traditionally true for any good "cabin story" and a must for low budget thrillers like this one - and really well played here. Apparently like Witch, the actors worked with minimal direction and suggestions rather than a distinct script.
My only real complaint is what The Girl likes to call "going back for the cat". She hates the movie Alien because she thinks Ripley risking being eaten alive by an alien for the cat broke all plausibility. This is common in horror films, of course, the "stupid horror victim" has been parodied and even noted in recent horror films. Here, Micah goes from being bold to brainded before the third act begins. If I have a tape of something starting a spontaneous fire on my coffee table - I'm finding an expert.
That the movie got to this point is rather remarkable, and it seems like we have a lot of thanks to Spielberg and his posse for that. Not only did they pick up the film, they realized it should remain in the current format (there was the idea to remake it "Hollywood" style and just include the current film as a DVD extra) and help improve the overall structure and ending (there are two alternate endings floating around the net - neither sounds as good as their aired version).
But that's just a subcomponent of an others wise well tailored experience. I hope movies like The Last Broadcast, Blair Witch, and Paranormal Activity gets a chance to branch out into their sub-genre. Hopefully we can see this formula expanded and evolved, and perhaps now that we've seen that a studio can help the production and not hurt it ... they'll get even more sophisticated.
Obviously, highly recommended.