The new horror film based on suspense and atmosphere rather than gore received an unexpected boost in popularity because of its sense of realism.
Paranormal Activity: The Plotline
When a young couple, Katie and Micah, sense a strange presence in their home in San Diego, California, they try to trap it by setting up a video camera to record what is going on at night while they are sleeping. Katie has the feeling that the ghostly presence that has haunted her since she was a child is behind the supernatural experiences. They consult a psychic, who believes a demon might be to blame, and that the demon may be attached to Katie rather than the environment. He suggests they consult a demonologist.
At first reluctant, Micah decides to record the strange happenings himself. He records unusual events that range from eerie voices and lights to Katie sleepwalking. In the morning, Katie has no recollection of what has occurred. Incidents escalate until Katie is dragged out of bed by an invisible entity. Against Micah’s better judgment, Katie convinces him they should spend another night in the house, which turns out to be a big mistake.
The Production of Paranormal Activity
Director Oren Peli used his own fear of ghosts as inspiration for the movie. Interestingly, he used his own house for the setting. In order to prepare it, he repainted the walls and made other changes. He also did extensive research on the paranormal so the film would be as realistic as possible. He chose to set it at night for the atmosphere.
For the cast, he auditioned several hundred people before choosing Katie Featherston and Micha Sloat for the lead roles. After a limited release, the film opened on September 25, 2009 and was an instant box office success.
Scarier than The Blair Witch?
When The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999, it broke new ground by being one of the first films made on a very low budget and with a hand-held video camera. Like Paranormal Activity, it took the box office by storm. The reason for the film’s success is that it was very convincing. Though the film relied on suspense, tension and atmosphere rather than gore, the viewers were riveted to their seats.
Viewers of Paranormal Activity have displayed a similar reaction. Some believe it is even more disturbing than The Blair Witch Project because while The Blair Witch takes place in the woods, Paranormal Activity takes place in a couple’s own home, in their own bedroom. This invasion of the home by an unseen demon is what most find so upsetting.
The technique of making movies with hand-held video cameras is often used by filmmakers on a budget. But the concept has some unexpected benefits. This technique gives a film a grainy sense of reality. As with The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity had no firm script and the actors were encouraged to improvise. This gives both films the sense that they are actually happening. In Paranormal Activity, fear is on the psychological side. While some horror fans are more affected by slasher films, the success of this film proves that others are more upset by things that go bump in the night.