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Horror on screen

Movies | Low-budget Paranormal Activity will leave viewers terrified

Issue: "All-American adoption story," Nov. 21, 2009

"Cheap thrills" is right. Paranormal Activity, one of the scariest and best-scripted horror movies of the last few years, cost its makers approximately $11,000 and is on track to break $100 million in box office gross. Why? What's so unique about this crazy little picture?

Well, for one thing, it's not as violent as most horror flicks. Its characters are a nice­seeming (though unmarried) couple in their 20s named Katie (played by Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat), and they do not seem like the kind of people who go around stabbing or being stabbed. Their only problem is Katie's recurring nightmare of a floating apparition at her bedside. She thinks she hears whatever it is that's haunting her dreams thumping around the house late at night.

So Micah sets up a video camera in their bedroom to film the two of them doing everyday things so he can review the footage and ease Katie's fears-hence the movie's vérité style. Unfortunately, whatever it is that's haunting Katie seems to like the spotlight. It starts out small-there's a thump outside the room-but things get incrementally worse, with doors moving for no reason and disembodied shadows appearing. We think we've got the measure of the movie-it's so home-video-looking that there's no way it could get any scarier-but director Oren Peli has an incredible number of tricks up his sleeve and by the end if you're not terrified, it's because you've run out of the theater.

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The movie is rated R for cursing and what looks (blurrily) like violence at the climax. What makes the movie so frightening is the fact that characters you're invested in are in danger, and that's its genius.

Supernatural horror is always difficult to recommend to Christians. I'll just say that this film's theology is as good or better than that of The Exorcist, and that it deals with a demon who seems to conform to the Christian definition of the term. Any use of Ouija boards or other forms of communication with evil spirits turns out to be a very, very bad idea.

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