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Monday, September 28, 2009


The crowd sat down. Adjusted their lap bars. The staff gave out the warnings. The passengers threw up their arms and cheered as the train left the station.

The roller coaster ride known as "Paranormal Activity" screened in 16 cities last night, with the Music Box Theater scoring Chicago's only midnight showing. An estimated crowd of 1,500 snaked around the block, those who RSVP'd in advance were allowed in.

Haven't heard of "Paranormal Activity" yet? It's a "Blair Witch"-style, found footage horror fest, about a young couple dealing with a possible demon in their home. The spirit seems to be following Katie (Katie Featherston, the next Heather Donahue) since she was eight years old, keeping her awake at night with its whispering in her ears.

Her boyfriend Micah (Micah Sloat) will have none of this. He's your stereotypical dude-bro who wants to get this demon on film. He buys a video camera, and the two begin documenting their lives in your typical haunted suburban home. The film is the supposed "found footage" that police were kind enough to share with Paramount Pictures. Of course none of this is real, but it was crafted well enough to suck last night's crowd in, scaring the you-know-what out of them despite the ridiculous amount of hype.

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As a card-carrying member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, I cannot give you my full review of "Paranormal Activity" until the Chicago release date (none is set yet). I can say that it's a film that ratchets up the tension throughout, slowly building to one enormous scare that had ninety-percent of the Music Box crowd in screams. The conclusion was easily the most tense moment I have ever spent in a movie theater. And as I write this, I'm getting chills all over again. It's just that effective.

Afterwards, hundreds of viewers stuck around outside the theater, some physically shaking. One young woman broke out in tears when I asked her how she was feeling. The crowd was mixed into two camps - hardcore horror fans debating the success of director Oren Peli and his $15,000 budget film, and people looking to each other for therapy, reminding each other that none of this stuff happens in real life. Or does it?

I shot some video of their reactions, I'll have it posted soon. One gentleman told me that "Paranormal Activity" is a film that demands to be seen in a theater among 1,500 strangers. After last night's packed free screenings across the country, Paramount will no doubt be bringing this one to a theater near you. They're asking fans to "demand" it play in their town, no matter how small. You can do so here. In the meantime, watch the trailer...