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Published: Tuesday, 10/20/2009

'Paranormal Activity' a spooky ghost story come to life

Welcome to the Blade blog Culture Shock, a three-times-a-week riff by Pop Culture Editor Kirk Baird on pop culture news, events, and trends. The blog will appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings here, with the odd night or off-day posting if something is merited.

Sorry for the lack of posts Friday and the super-delayed post today ... my dad was visiting from Texas, so I was busy entertaining.

As part of our Friday night father-son bonding, we took in a late-night screening of the much-buzzed about Paranormal Activity.

I couldn't catch a screening of the film before deadline, so The Blade ran a wire review instead. The reviewer, Colin Covert of the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, gave it 3.5 stars outta 5. I agree with his assessment.

Paranormal Activity is no Blair Witch Project, though the films share much in common: low-budget, single-camera indie horror movies, which were picked up and distributed by bigger film studios. Both films relied on Internet marketing to great affect (released in 1999, The Blair Witch Project was a pioneer with such an online tool). And both, while labeled horror stories, really aren't horror films -- at least, not as they've come to be known through film series like Saw, Halloween, Final Destination, and Friday the 13th.

Those movies are as much about gore as they are about fright, whereas The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity are more traditional ghost stories told around the campfire come to life. They are slow-building and tedious, but once you're hooked into the tale you just know ends badly, you cannot turn away.

The Blair Witch Project is the story of a trio of filmmakers who venture out into the Maryland woods to investigate the local legend of an evil witch who haunts the forest and is responsible for disappearances of several residents -- many of them children. The filmmakers are never heard from again, either, with only a film camera to document what happened to them in their last few days.

Paranormal Activity is the tale of a boyfriend and girlfriend, Micah and Katie, whose San Diego condo is also home to a terrifying demon that's plagued Katie since she turned 8. Micah wants to document the haunting with a film camera, which also turns out to be the only link to what happened to he and Katie.

Both films rarely make you jump, and instead work diligently to create a creepy atmosphere that makes you feel uneasy and fearful, just like a good ghost story should do. The films are also punctuated by the same kind of "gotcha!" moment that is a hallmark of just about any good ghostly tale. The fun of these movies, as with ghost stories, isn't in their ending, but in the long, unsettling ride that gets us there.

There's a reason Paranormal Activity is getting such good buzz -- it's a spooky 85-minute ride that toys with you and, at times, startles you. The film may not give you the haunting nightmares like with the first time you saw The Exorcist, but it does make you slightly more aware of nighttime noises ... and to the possibility of terrifying creatures that don't just go bump in the night, but take possession of your body, even to the unwilling ... truly scary stuff.

Go in there with expectations in check, and you shouldn't be disappointed.

Agree or disagree with a posting? Lemme know. Have a topic or suggestion? Lemme know that, too. Send an e-mail to kbaird@theblade.com or call 419-724-6734.

LINK: For all of Kirk Baird's Culture Shock riffs



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