Director Oren Peli's low-budget "haunted-house thriller" Paranormal Activity is drawing lots of comparisons to 1999's The Blair Witch Project, said Owen Gleiberman in Entertainment Weekly, but there's a key difference. Although Peli's film was "shot for $11,000" and "made very much in the peekaboo-vérité spirit of Blair Witch" (watch the trailer), in that movie, "you never really did get to see very much, but in Paranormal Activity (watch the trailer) you do"—and it's "freaky and terrifying."
Paranormal Activity has "the power to scare you with the sound of a creaking door," said Ben Kenigsberg in Time Out New York, and the film "makes a virtue of simplicity." But it also "lacks the conceptual elegance of its obvious precursor, The Blair Witch Project," and "often has the feel of a film-school exercise in which the object is to wring maximum suspense from rudimentary tools."
Well, at least in terms of marketing, said John Horn in the Los Angeles Times, the similarities between the films "are striking." Positive word-of-mouth buzz about the "micro-budget spectral thriller" Blair Witch Project "spread quickly via the Internet, early nationwide college-town screenings," and "a slowly expanding theatrical release." That model "made The Blair Witch Project a cultural phenomenon and box-office blockbuster," and "it's a carefully crafted plan that Paramount Pictures is following nearly to the letter with Paranormal Activity."