Proof You Don’t Need to Spend a Lot to Make a LOT
Main Cast: Katie Featherstone and Micah Sloat
Director: Oren Peli
I think it’s safe to say this movie won me over before I’d even seen a single frame of it. I love found footage movies. I love ghost stories. So I was onboard the moment I first heard about it. And I’ve been a huge fan of the entire series, seeing all but the first and last in the theaters. Having said that, I’m always the first to admit this movie is not what those early commercials led me to believe. They didn’t show much of the movie itself, but went for the opposite route, with the camera trained on the audience, showing their terrified reactions. So, hell yes, if it’s doing that to movie audiences, I’m totally on board. Scare me. Please!
And then I saw the movie and, at the end, probably shook my head and thought, “What was all the fuss about? That wasn’t scary!”
But that didn’t diminish my appreciation of it as a whole. Terrifying or not, I dig the Paranormal Activity franchise.
In the first installment, Katie Featherstone and Micah Sloat are a young California couple who have purchased a video camera with the intent of catching some of the strange things going on around their house on videotape.
Katie claims the entity or whatever it is has been with her since she was 8 years old. Micah takes the phenomenon seriously–he kind of has to, he’s witnessed it–but doesn’t think things are as dire as Katie does. Katie, on the other hand, is visibly shaken, uncertain, scared, and generally not at ease with what’s been happening. She’s really not even sure she wants to capture it on film, preferring the ignore it and maybe it’ll go away approach. Micah, on the other hand, is very gung-ho about getting to the bottom of things.
As the days pass, the activity gets more intense, more frequent, and more dangerous for the couple until, three weeks later, things come to a head and the entity makes it biggest move against a defenseless Katie.
Paranormal Activity is the brainchild of writer/director Oren Peli who made a movie in his own home in seven days, paid his two actors a reported $500 each, then sold the distribution rights for $350,000 for a movie that eventually went on to make almost $200 million worldwide, making this the most profitable movie of all time.
There was no script, Katie and Micah instead being given instructions on what the scene was about, and then improvising the take. The special effects were minimal. The action was almost non-existent. And still Peli managed to pull it together into 86 minutes of entertainment. I wish I could say 86 minutes of horror, but let’s be real: this movie isn’t scary at all. Sure, there are a few jump scares, but that’s it. And that’s from someone who thinks ghost stories are the only truly terrifying horror stories out there. They freak me out, man, but this movie doesn’t even make me uncomfortable watching alone in the dark.
And yet, I stand behind this movie and the entire series.
There’s just something about it that feels … genuine. I don’t mean the story, I know that’s made up. Hell, Micah and Katie aren’t even a real couple, but they do have chemistry and I wouldn’t have been surprised to find out they were. No, I just feel a lot of heart watching this movie. Peli had a real passion for this project, and wasn’t going to let anything stand in his way, and that comes through onscreen.
I love the DIY feel and I support it 100%. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a found footage ghost story. The only other thing Peli could have gotten me as invested in would have been a found footage alien movie, which he did in 2015 with the absolutely horrible Area 51. So let’s just stick with the ghosts from now on, cool?
For me, I think it’s the lack of all those Hollywood tropes that makes this movie such a success. And I wish more movies, found footage or otherwise, would take a lesson from its less is more approach.
No, Paranormal Activity is not a big budget movie with flashy special effects, big name actors, and an intense quick-cut climax. This is a subtle movie that unfolds at a natural pace, shows “real” people reacting to “real” situations, and actually feels like the one thing most found footage movies claim to be, but very obviously are not: authentic.
And for that, I’m onboard for as many of these things as they want to make.