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‘Paranormal’ brings suspense to the fore

Washington Post

‘Paranormal Activity’

This genuinely chilling, low-budget indie – shot back in 2006 by first-time filmmaker Oren Peli – tells the story of a demonic force plaguing a young couple within the claustrophobic walls of their sparsely furnished San Diego home.

“You can’t run from this,” a psychic tells Katie (Katie Featherston), who has been haunted by eerie disturbances since childhood. Her gadget-obsessed boyfriend, Micah (Micah Sloat), responds by setting up a video camera to document what happens each night when they tuck into bed.

At first, little registers. Then, things start to get really freaky.

Peli relies largely on purposely amateurish and dimly lit bedroom scenes to form the mundane- but-eventually-disturbing core of the movie.

Its suspense is the sort that lurks in shadows, making our eyes play tricks and our ears hear unidentified bumps – or thuds – in the night. (1:39; R for offensive language)

‘9’

Shane Acker’s feature-length telling of his Oscar-nominated student short will expose the animator’s talents to a much wider world.

Nine burlapped Beowulfian bravehearts – Acker dubs them “stitchpunk” dolls – individually represent parts of their late scientist-creator’s soul. Humanity has been wiped out by the rise (and rage) of the machines, so these small dolls, each possessing a distinct personality, must band together to try to conquer a cat beast and a winged beast, among other fiercely clattering creatures.

But for all its talk of preserving the human soul, it’s too busy dodging creaking machines to pause and let us feel any real depth of connection among the plucky stitchpunkers. (1:21; PG-13 for violence and scary images)

‘Jennifer’s Body’

Megan Fox makes a subversive plaything of her smokin’ hottie persona as Jennifer Check, a high school queen bee who, after an ugly encounter with a van full of rock musicians, becomes a raging succubus with a taste for type B (i.e., “boy”) blood.

Amanda Seyfried plays Jennifer’s bookish pal, who twigs to her BFF’s psycho-weirdness and could very well pay for that insight with her life.

The movie, written by Diablo Cody (“Juno”), introduces a little rrriot grrrl-y feminism to a genre that for too long has been predicated on female victimization.

And director Karyn Kusama (“Girlfight”) handles the structural imperatives with solid timing and occasional panache. (1:42; R for sexuality, bloody violence, profanity and brief drug use)

‘A Perfect Getaway’

David Twohy’s thriller/romance/ travelogue seems to have enough red herrings on board to scuttle a cruise ship to Hawaii, which is where Cliff (Steve Zahn) and Cydney (Milla Jovovich) have gone on their honeymoon.

They’ve left behind the Big Island and headed for Kauai, to backpack through the lush undergrowth in search of remote beaches. However, upon arriving, they hear the story about honeymooners being murdered by a couple back in Honolulu.

Then they meet Gina (Kiele Sanchez) and Nick (Timothy Olyphant), who has a titanium plate in his head, a crazed look in his eye and a sufficient number of Iraq war stories to curl one’s hair. They’ve also just come from Honolulu.

As the couples do their psychological dance and the viewer tries to figure out just exactly where in the wide, wide world of steamy tropical paradise this all is going, the spasms of fear multiply exponentially. (1:37; rated R for violence, vulgarity, sexual content and drug use)

Also available: “Carriers,” “Facing Ali,” “Glee, Vol. 1: Road to Sectionals,” “United States of Tara: Season 1”

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