.First off, I'm still peeved at Paramount over their treatment of Paranormal Activity and its DVD/Blu-ray releases. I watched the film for the first time last night before reading about its multiple versions afterward. Now I feel like I haven't seen really "seen" the film despite seeing it...or at least some form of it. Like most of you reading this, I hate watching films altered from their original versions. Of course, this type of thing happens more often than we know, but in this case its so obvious and flagrant. Not to mention this being a horror film so it all feels more personal in a sense. Horror being released incomplete on home video in this day-and-age? That just doesn't happen...
Everyone probably already knows the story about Paramount snapping up the rights, sitting on it for well over a year, rumors of the studio planning a remake, and suddenly deciding to release the original with a "Demand It!" gimmick with the rest being recent history. I suspect the studio decided long before an official announcement to widely release the original. It just took time to "mold" the film for mainstream audiences, apparently supervised by unofficial Poltergeist director Steven Spielberg, and devise a marketing campaign to drum up hype.
This 86 minute theatrical version turned out to the most profitable film in history, but that's beside the point. I feel like I've witnessed only what Paramount designed for me to see--not director Peli. A small genre indie has been taken and coiled through a big studio post editing gristmill for maximum box office revenue. With this situation in mind, it's tough to truly judge the film without its intended arrangement.
Paranormal Activity is a Pollock in the horror genre. The $15,000 execution and aim is so simple that the split love/hate reaction speaks to the same polarizing effect of the art of Jackson Pollock. What makes the artist's work so significant, despite looking to some like paint wantonly splattered on canvas, is that it was never done before Pollock. Peli's film has a few processors, chiefly The Blair Witch Project, but its confoundedly "why didn't I think of that" concept, adaption of familiar traditional horror themes, and similar cultural impact make it a foundational example of the fresh found footage subgenre.
Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat do a fine job as the couple terrorized by a phantom attic-dwelling demon. Their "lived-in" acting falls into a middle ground between the vulnerable rawness of the people in Blair Witch and the wooden hyper-realism of the actors in Romero's Diary of the Dead. The effect being you don't find yourself clinging to their shoulders like you do in the chilly repeating woods freaked out by a witch, but stiffened with fright by the lingering noises and slamming doors. This is one intention that's hopefully original, surviving Paramount's bastardization.
My complaints are small, but I'm reserving them until I see Oren Peli's authentic creation. I will say the alternate ending on this DVD, which is quieter and more disturbing, seems to fit better in the context with what I've read about Peli's director's cut. There's also some visual cues earlier in the film that can be tied to this particular climax rather than the slambang as-seen-in-theaters chair jumping conclusion. Paranormal Activity seems a very worthy horror feature saddled with very unworthy treatment. Keep those fingers crossed.