Judged by ability to render a viewer a wholly shit-scared wreck, this movie is genius. Everything it touches in regards to bringing the fright turns to gold, and I would have no problem saying this is the scariest film in some time, at least since The Descent. What I would have a problem with is saying that its a truly great horror movie however, because as paradoxical as it may seem to say, there is more to making a great horror movie than simply scaring the audience. I don't want to criticize it too much because it takes you on a genuinely nerve shredding ride, but a five star masterpiece it is not. Sorry guys (particularly Total Film and Empire).
But being the sunny minded individual that I am, I'll address the good first, and to be fair there is a lot of it. The movie handled the now well-oiled gimmick of the real footage horror movie with aplomb, even bringing out new aspects of it that the rag-tag collection of movies that have previously trodden this territory hadn't been ingenuous enough to come up with. In particular the tripoded static night shot, which always in the same place throughout the movie becomes almost an announcer of 'scary shit is about to happen now' and as a consequence just returning to that shot ratchets up a near unbearable amount of tension, even before anything actually happens. Never before in the history of cinema has an audience been so effectively scared and been at the mercy of a camera angle. Like Blair Witch, the movie wisely keeps the villain unseen, or seen only in suggestion. Its just so much better that way. And the handling of the pace of our paranormal's escalating malevolence is also masterfully done. Its not just the gimmick that makes this movie so terrifying, its director Oren Peli's near perfect handling of the slow-burn. The dude is someone to watch.
The actors, who are notoriously the weakest aspect of this kind of thing, are mostly competent, sometimes more so. Also like Blair Witch, Micah Sloat and Katie Featherstone play themselves, with her faring better, but him not being a total waste. Featherstone plays the victim and voice of reason very well, and gets to display an impressive range later in the movie, whilst Sloat is pretty one-note, but hits it well. Which actually brings me to the movie's main weakness which perhaps has been overlooked because of its form, but its far too dependant on Micah's intense idiocy in order to progress. I can handle a little stupidity from my horror movie heroes, but Micah's abysmal decision making does grate after a while, in spite of repeatedly being told not to, and it feels very much like the movie is forcing his character to act this way in order to progress, and its a cheap way out and belongs to a lesser movie. Similarly there's plenty of logical grievances to make with the movie too, in terms of the characters decision to stay so isolated.
But given how well the scary stuff is done I am quite happy to let these complaints go and call this a great movie of its genre, and a masterclass in actually scaring people rather then just grossing them out, which is the path of most modern horrors. Its not as Good as Blair Witch, which made a real effort to make its characters more then ciphers for the experience, but it may be scarier. Because above all that's what this movie is for. Its rough around the edges, but what it came here to do, it does gloriously.