Horror. Worldview. Faith.

Paranormal Activity – Review

Paranormal Activity – Review

Jan 11, 2010

reviewed by:  Skot
directed by Oren Peli, 2007

There is a new film called Paranormal Activity that some people are calling one of the scariest movies ever made.  Produced in 2007 by unknowns with just $11,000 and shot in seven days, it’s being compared to The Blair Witch Project from ten years ago.  It too was made by amateur filmmakers for a pittance and it too became a phenomenon.

My comments will come from two perspectives that, in my case, overlap.  First, as a discerning moviegoer.  Second, as a pastor.

If you think you might see this movie, I recommend not reading many reviews (except this one) or watching the trailer.  I don’t want to tell you much about it because it’ll be more fun when you don’t know what to expect.  Just know that it is relentlessly suspenseful and may make you want to sleep with the lights on for ten or fifteen years.

Paranormal Activity is being promoted as the scariest movie in the history of always.  Calling anything the “scariest” or “funniest” or “best” is almost setting it up to fail.  If your expectations are impossibly high, then you are sure to be disappointed by what is otherwise a terrific film.  Some of the ads for the film say “nightmares are guaranteed.”  Seems like that should be deterrent, but not so.  I’m telling you, for all the adrenaline junkies, this will not disappoint.

Horror movies go up and down in popularity and they’ve been pretty popular recently.  Because we build up tolerance, the tendency is to try to out-shock, out-jolt and out-disgust everything that went before it.  But let’s face it; the envelope can only be stretched so far.  Once you’ve seen one subterranean, nazi, zombie, seven-headed, man-eating Hydra you’ve seen them all.  The problem with many horror pictures is that they show you too much, they over-explain the inexplicable.  What is most refreshing about this movie is that it has the guts to let its story convey the horror instead of the spectacle.  Paranormal Activity stands out because of its restraint, for what it doesn’t show.  It scares you more by suggestion that explication.

Parenthetically, how intriguing that the other surprise hit of the year was District 9, another non-Hollywood movie, made on a shoestring with unknown actors.  It had a lot more going for it in terms of the special effects but like Paranormal, the emphasis was on the tale itself.

God is a storyteller.  There is a grand narrative from which all others, to some extent, derive.  As God is imaginative and talkative, it is thus also constitutive of human nature to tell stories and to hear (see) them told.  This characteristic, almost above all else, distinguishes us from the animals.  Creative storytelling is what is most godlike about us.  Sometimes we spin yarns, fiction and non, for entertainment, to pass the time.  Usually to convey values, beliefs, tradition and other culturally valuable information.  Storytelling has been used to inspire great virtues such as courage, compassion, and integrity.  It has also been used to manipulate and undermine.

This story, Paranormal Activity, is told to instill fear.  Fear is a deeply entrenched emotion.  All children are afraid of the dark, a condition we never truly outgrow.  We are wary of things that go bump in the night, or in the hallway outside your bedroom door.  Sometimes rightly so.  Fear can serve us or defeat us.  Can I get an “amen?”  Sometimes fear is helpful.  A man who is never afraid is not brave, he is a fool.  That is one thing that Paranormal Activity says.  If it conveys any existential meaning at all – and I believe that it does – it is that sometimes you SHOULD be afraid.  It is one of the standard conventions of such movies to have a character who is a skeptic, one who thinks he understands the nature of things and is in control of his life, but who is rudely awakened, usually one moment too late.

My assertion is that this is what most people are like, most of the time.  We are know-it-alls when, in fact, we only see a fraction of the cosmos and all it contains.  We’ve only scratched the surface.  Christians acknowledge the reality of the spiritual world.  The Bible certainly teaches that angels and demons exist and that God Himself is daily active in our world.  Read the four Gospels.  It is evident that exorcising demons was a significant part of the earthly ministry of Jesus.  These things are real and yet many of us live daily as materialists.  Not necessarily materialist in the sense of loving money and possessions (though that may be true too), but materialist in the sense of behaving as if only the material world matters.

When I was a pastor in Pittsburgh, I was genuinely surprised at how often people in the church-at-large and community came to me with tales of ghosts and haunted dwellings.  Paranormal Activity.  You can devote yourself to science to try to understand the world.  Or you can consult psychics and mediums.  But the philosophies of this world will always fall short.  And that brings me to my criticism of this film.  For all of Katie and Mika’s attempts to understand and overcome that which tormented them, they never phoned their pastor.


  1. Your comments are right when you say at times we “should” be scared. Pardon the forthcoming link, but I wrote a small article about the legitimacy of our children’s concerns that there really are monsters under the bed. Take a look.


  2. There’s an interesting book on this topic called,
    “Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence”

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