Paranormal Activity, Oren Peli, 85 mins, (15)
Bunny and the Bull, Paul King, 101 mins, (15)

Bumps, thumps and shaking chandeliers make for enjoyably hammy horror

While Hollywood continually searches for new and ever more expensive ways to get our attention, what really makes the film industry sit up is the Holy Grail of the no-budget marvel.

The latest film to fit that bill, tipped as the new Blair Witch Project, is US horror cheapie Paranormal Activity, a literally home-made venture by one Oren Peli (he shot it in his own house), which has been championed by Steven Spielberg and acquired by Paramount in the United States. Costing no more than a reported $15,000 (roughly £9,000), the film has now grossed $106m. Now if I were sitting in an accountant's office in LA, I'd be thinking that that, rather than James Cameron's forthcoming 3D folly, is entertainment.

Distinguished by its single-minded and seemingly artless simplicity, Paranormal Activity wants to chill the viewers' blood, rather than spill the characters'. A pleasant youngish couple, who share the names of lead actors Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, are having trouble with a supernatural visitation in their San Diego home. After losing a few nights' sleep to the odd unexplained creak, Micah buys a camcorder and attempts to capture the nuisance on video.

Framed as found footage, Paranormal Activity is purportedly shot entirely on Micah's camera – hand-held by day, in eerie night vision while the couple sleep. It is suggested more than once that the camera's presence will only antagonise the unwelcome guest, and of course that's exactly the case. We're in the same territory as those other mock-vérité chillers The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield (one cheap, the other spending a fortune to simulate cheapness), the premise being that there wouldn't be anything to see if the characters weren't filming, and yet filming is the very worst thing they can do.

As in The Blair Witch Project, knowing amateurishness is both a likeable selling point and a key narrative element; but, unlike that grim fairy tale of the haunted woods, Peli's film spooks us by foregrounding the reassuringly mundane, with its setting of a brightly lit, featurelessly bland modern house. The characters are utterly ordinary, too: she's cheerful and somewhat matronly; he's a brash joker, excessively rational yet also keen to try out a Ouija board. (One tip we are offered: never leave a Ouija board unattended with the camera running.)

The couple's house incubus seems to be an old-fashioned, easily pleased guest: it enjoys nothing more than turning lights on and off. Don't expect CGI clouds of ectoplasm: the scares here are strictly bargain-basement, even reduced-for-clearance: a chandelier swings, a shadow looms and things go bump! – and then thump!, to ensure you're getting your money's worth. Peli's film revives the honourable tradition of chills-by-suggestion, whereby what we don't see is far scarier than what we do. In fact, the very eeriest moment is a lengthy shot in which we just gaze at an empty room, and dread what will come next.

And the approach really works: at least, it will if you're impressionable, eager to be spooked and able to see Paranormal Activity in a crowded cinema with some semi-drunken friends. The sceptical, or domestic DVD watchers, will just find themselves raising a jaded eyebrow.

Another example of game low-budgetry is Bunny and the Bull, a British comedy by Paul King, best known as the director of The Mighty Boosh. It's a rather blokey, tomfoolery-laden road comedy about a shy agoraphobic (Edward Hogg) and the brash friend (Simon Farnaby) who accompanies him on a trip around Europe. The joke is that the pair's journey essentially takes place in the reclusive Stephen's memory, without him leaving his flat: hence, such modestly tricksy devices as a bed that turns out to be a door leading to the next scene, and a sofa that the characters crawl through to watch their own adventures.

A film celebrating the joy of inventive cheapness (rather than actually a cheap film, considering its £1m budget), Bunny and the Bull revels in manifest illusionism. Much of the film resembles a table-top mock-up in an animator's studio (there is, in fact, a lot of very engaging animation on show) or a wilfully corny Hamley's Christmas window display. The overall effect is of a considerably more economical version of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, or a not quite so economical Michel Gondry: in other words, the film resembles an extended example of that school of music video that errs knowingly on the childlike side.

The visual panache is pleasingly crackpot, but that's about as far as the film goes. The central pair are oddly charmless – Hogg pallidly forlorn, Farnaby's hairy priapic doofus displaying a few too many second-hand Kramer traits – while the script is thinly stretched, at best reaching the level of Radio 4's hit-and-miss 6.30pm comedy slot. The show is stolen twice, once by an animated metal bull, once by half of the Boosh, Julian Barratt, as a hairy lover of dogs. Otherwise, passably cheap, but could be that bit more cheerful.

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there