So after re-watching Paranormal Activity (sober this time) and watching [rec] this weekend, I started to compare the two movies quite a bit. They are both handheld horror, so that started the obvious comparison. But the main thing to remember is that they are both very good handheld horror. While the movies both have quite different plots, they are similarly terrifying and both highlight the idea that there is no escape from the respective terrors. I just had to wonder how they stacked up against each other. So we have a rumble on our hands folks!
First, a look at [rec]. This is the Spanish film that inspired Quarantine, in case you don't know that already. Well, the movie opens with a film crew doing a show about what happens when you sleep. They are following a group of firemen for a night when they get a call about an elderly woman who is hurt in her apartment. After the woman attacks a police officer already on the scene, the building is suddenly quarantined off and the survivors aren't allowed out. They find out slowly that whatever was wrong with the old woman can be spread to others and things start going very poorly for our poor residents. Things escalate into one of the creepiest final scenes in horror history.
Paranormal Activity is an American movie made about 2 years ago, but until recently never really saw the light of day in theaters. It follows a couple that recently moved in together and you discover that the woman has been haunted by something since she was very young, no matter where she was living. As the young couple begin watching the footage after each night, they discover that whatever it is that haunts them is getting bolder and stronger. Finally, things escalate into one of the creepiest final scenes in horror history.
Both movies rely on the cinema verite angle of film making, going for the found footage look to the movies. However, [rec] seems to be riding the wave of "zombie" films that have been permeating the film industry lately. I put zombie in quotes because while [rec] isn't a true zombie film in the Romero sense, it is close enough for me. That being said, [rec] is an exceptional zombie movie, so it does have that going for itself. Paranormal Activity is a unique story of a haunting in that it's not tied to a house or location, but a person being tormented by a demon. The two movies are both in established genres, but you don't see as many haunting movies like that recently, so the edge goes to Paranormal Activity.
Paranormal Activity relies a lot on the static shots of the bedroom at night. Those shots are the scariest of the film, and they are great because of their simplicity, but that's exactly why it's not quite as interesting on a cinematography level. [rec] is very shaky and frantic, often reflecting the tone of the action on screen. It gets a bit hard to watch at times because of the movement of the camera, but it's interesting to see what gets framed up. The best shots of the two movies come from [rec], framing up all kinds of scary things on the fly, rather than having the benefit of being statically set up. Therefore, [rec] gets the edge for cinematography.
Well, what is going to be the tie breaker? I have to go with scare factor on this one. Starting with [rec], you get some truly great scenes. The initial old woman attack is tense and taut. The scene where the little girl is on the loose is nearing brilliance with the way she shows up in frame. The shot of all the infected people in the staircase is one of the craziest, most frantic scenes in recent memory. It's full of scares.
Paranormal Activity is a fairly regular movie until the static bedroom scenes. Those scenes are where the movie really truly excels. The shot where the sheets billow up and the shadow moves across the door is amazing. The shot where talcum powder is put down and footprints appear from nothing is brilliant in its simplicity. And any of the shots with just sounds are wonderfully frightening.
So it comes down to the final scenes of both movies. Both are amazing. I won't say what happens in either, but when it finally came down to it, I had to think of which one was more original. Something I truly hadn't seen before. That went to Paranormal Activity. It was so brilliantly simple and creepy. While [rec] had an amazing creature in the end that I can't seem to forget, it's what is not shown in PA that makes it scarier. So in the end, Paranormal Activity is scarier to me and therefore, wins the battle.
The honest truth is that if you watch either of these movies, you will be scared and satisfied. They are both great, but I think PA seems to be a bit more ingenious in the way it is presented. Watch both of them and tell me what you think!