PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, writer/director Oren Peli's single-set calling card of a ghost story, is clever, unbearably tense, and, above all, relentless—a Blair Witch Project that doesn't skimp on the money shots. Much like that film, the combination of jittery handheld cameras, no-profile actors, and a lack of dudes in rubber suits will no doubt turn off a significant portion of the audience in the mood for something overt. For those in a more suggestible frame of mind, however, Peli's method of imbuing everyday objects with an atmosphere of ball-crawling dread is really something to see. It doesn't let up.
The premise is ingenious in a way that's maybe only possible on a microbudget: After a young woman begins to complain about hearing strange (and more ominously, strangely familiar) sounds after dark, her tech-head boyfriend hooks up a camera in their bedroom to document any late-night shenanigans. Heh heh heh, as the Cryptkeeper used to say.
There are problems, to be sure: The male character is an unlikeable douche, and the film's reliance on silence-then-BOOM set pieces can seem like a bunch of cheap jolt YouTubes spliced together. But, man, when it works, it works to a degree that I'm slightly shamefaced to admit during the daylight hours. Backlash against advertising proclamations of The! Scariest! Movie! Ever! is probably already primed, but all I know is that every damn time that camera goes back to the time-coded bedroom and waits for something to happen, it's awfully easy to believe the hype.