Katie Featherston as Katie
Micah Sloat as Micah
Michael Bayouth as The Demonologist
Directed by Oren Peli
I am sure you are all familiar with the glowing praise this film has gotten all over the web. This handy-cam epic has been hailed as the scariest film of the year...possibly the decade. Reports of scared stiff audiences visibly shaking have trickled out of fest screenings and whet the appetites of scare-hungry movie fans like myself. Needless to say, the hype proceeding this film was massive, and unfortunately when a film has so much to live up to it can't possibly deliver.
The plot is simple, and I promise not to give any spoilers. Katie and Micah live in a townhouse that Katie swears is haunted. Micah buys a super expensive camera to try to either prove her wrong or prove that there is actual paranormal activity going on in the house. At first nothing happens except some noises and bangs, but soon it becomes obvious (at least to the audience) that some crazy ghost crap is indeed taking place. Katie and Micah are little more calm about all this and decide to just continue living with it and hope that it all goes away. It does not...in fact, it gets worse.
The couple's life starts to unravel in front of the unforgiving lens of the camera as the activity starts to target Katie. It appears to have a thing for her, and Micah starts feeling bullied around. She wants to call for help, but he won't let her because he wants to deal with all this craziness on his own...after all, it is his house. This turns out to be the wrong thing to do and pretty soon our protagonists are left at the mercy of a particularly vengeful entity because, after all, it's his house.
My first impression of the couple was not favorable. Katie (played by Katie Featherston) and Micah (played by Micah Sloat) come off as actors and not as regular people. Maybe its the dialog, maybe its the self-conscious way they talk, or maybe it was just my preconceived expectations of greatness, but the first five minutes are rough. The characterization improves and the chemistry kicks in soon enough and we start to believe these people are real people, and this is crucial for the film to work. The relationship seems electric in a very authentic way and this is great, but the film spends a bit too much time developing this connection and not enough time delivering the shocks that the audience is expecting.
This is a flawed film. Even the best films are flawed in small ways, and what makes this film flawed is the staggering number of missed opportunities. This is the slowest of slow burns, and you immediately pick up on the fact that the film is designed to creep you out and not make you crap your pants right away. Director Oren Peli's first film offers three good scares (by my reckoning) and a general sense of unease that runs throughout. This is a real world haunted house movie, so fans of Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures will be happy. This isn't Poltergeist (my favorite haunted house film) this is The Haunting by way of Open Water. The masterful touch in this film is how unique and simple the effects for the paranormal activity are handled.
If your idea of scary is seeing a door open and close by itself or loud banging, then you'll be in heaven. If you prefer a bit more meat on your scares, then you may have a tough time sitting through this film which focuses on the eerie ennui of Katie and Micah's sparse bedroom and hallway. In fact, that bedroom and hallway is the only thing we are looking at for about half of the film's running time. Luckily, the film is stretched over a period of 21 days and the mysterious editor of the film fast forwards to the good parts during the night.
Presented without opening credits or a musical score to preserve the authenticity of the "found footage," the film's main goal is subtlety at first. Then it starts to ramp up as a series of creepy events take place, setting the stage for the unnerving crescendo that is not only reminiscent of the Blair Witch ending, but also comes out of nowhere. I and most of the people who were at the screening I attended were left thinking "Is that it? That's how it ends?", and I bet a lot of you will too. Also, Peli throws a bit of business our way in the last two seconds that is not only nonsensical, but to me destroyed the realism that the film was striving for.
In the end, this is great movie to bring a date to and enjoy some groping. There are some solid, creepy moments and a few good scares, but unfortunately those are relegated towards the end. It's not the Holy Grail of haunted house films because a lot more could have been done (stuff moving in the background, shadows crossing hallways, creepy figures, etc.) but it is a worthy successor to the Blair Witch crown.
By the way, if you're already tired to death of the shaky-cam mockumentary-style horror movie, then don't worry. This movie's camera is on a tripod half the time!