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'Paranormal Activity' 靈動:鬼影實錄

Just for the record, the time to tell your significant other that an evil force has been stalking you since you were eight is long before you're engaged and have moved in together.

I'm not suggesting the demon/ghost/unidentified whatever is a deal breaker, but it should at least get a mention.

Consider the case of Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat), the young couple at the terrifying center of “Paranormal Activity.” By the time Katie tells Micah about her “problem” and by the time Micah takes it seriously, that “thing that goes bump in the night” really has built up a head of steam.

Before the lights go back up, and at some point you may wonder if they ever will, there will be a very tight coil of anxiety buried deep in your gut that is very hard to get rid of. I say that even though there's no hard research yet. But it is 3 a.m. as I'm writing this and with all these lights, I'm guessing the local electrical grid is recording a spike.

The man to curse for all this darkness is writer-director Oren Peli, who has created a psychological thriller of such small scale and yet such heightened effect that no doubt Hitchcock, wherever he may be, is smiling. Although the story does not have the complexity of the master, the first-time director understands that it's what you don't see, and the way in which you don't see it, that counts.

We're dropped into Katie and Micah's lives just as Micah is setting up a DIY surveillance system so he can record any suspicious activity in the house. As he begins shooting footage and talking to Katie we realize that he's merely going to elaborate lengths to prove that she is just imagining things.

Night after night the time-lapse camera keeps its unblinking eye on their bedroom, where most of the action takes place. Those recordings are our primary point of view, which works to add a certain veracity in a YouTube/Facebook way. Although the footage looks real enough, you can also sense a bona fide filmmaker's hand in the proceedings.

There's not much to the story: Evil has its eye on Katie, the couple try to escape or outwit it, and we know historically how that tends to go. There is lots of scary stuff in between and, in this case, little comic relief beyond the psychic/ghostbuster who makes house calls. Featherston and Sloat – two unknown actors – do a good job as the couple in the middle of the mess, as they swing between bickering about the thing and being frightened by it.

Peli works at mining the unknown, the unknowable, like a minimalist, using small moments and virtually no special effects exceedingly well.

Like “The Blair Witch Project,” another faux documentary-style horror movie, “Paranormal Activity” began building buzz on the Internet, where, according to crazed dispatches from the studio, fans demanded it be put in theaters immediately.

You can understand why studios would be keen to make these fans happy, since “Blair Witch” cost roughly US$60,000 and went on to make US$248.6 million during its theater run. Compared with “Blair Witch,” “Paranormal” was made on the cheap with a budget of around US$11,000. With US$77,000 already in the bank from sneak previews, even with marketing costs, this film soon will be wallowing in gravy.

Of course, none of those figures can help Katie and Micah now. But that's another story that I'm sure Peli will tell us one day.

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 'Paranormal Activity' 靈動:鬼影實錄 
A young couple moves into a suburban haunted house only to face a series of unexplainable horror events. (Courtesy of CatchPlay)

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