Let’s go on a journey, shall we? The journey involves time travel, so please bring a helmet. Let’s travel to the year 2009, a year when (pretend I’m listing things that were popular in 2009 because my brain is fried and I can barely remember this morning). Nostalgic trip, wasn’t it? In the summer/fall of 2009, word was starting to spread about some haunted house movie called “Paranormal Activity” that drew comparisons to The Blair Witch Project in both production value, filmmaking style, and success. The writer/director, Oren Peli, filmed two actors in his own home for a budget of $15,000, and in the movie’s first weekend it had made more than $9 million. But, was it actually any good? What is this “found footage” concept you speak of? Well, looking back, we have the answers to those questions, and have become jaded by those answers, but let’s just suspend those thoughts long enough to give a look back on the movie to thank/blame for all the found footage movies we’ve seen over the past few years.
Whoa! Spooky! A shadow! AHHHHH!!!!!!
Micah (Sloat) has just purchased a video camera because his girlfriend Katie (Featherston) has been having some strange experiences in their home. Micah seems excited at the possibility of paranormal happenings and Katie is tolerating his excitement, despite these events occurring to her since she was a child, but thinks that video evidence might help solve these issues. There are noises, voices, objects moving, all creepy things that Katie wants answers to, so she invites a psychic in her home, and he explains that he feels a strong negative force, possibly a demonic presence. The video camera starts to pick up things like strange breezes, strange voices, and doors opening and closing on their own. As the events intensify, so does Micah’s excitement at catching evidence. The experiences get so intense that picture frames are breaking, footprints are being found, and even gets to the point that Katie is dragged from the bed by an unknown force. Katie brings the psychic back and he immediately leaves, not feeling comfortable with the negative energy, and Katie and Micah are out of options. Another strange thing about the captured footage is that on multiple instances, Katie has been filmed getting out of bed and standing over Micah for hours while he sleeps. The events culminate when Katie gets out of bed, goes down the stairs, starts screaming, we hear Micah screaming as well, and then Micah’s body is thrown at the camera. Katie, covered in blood, approaches the camera, and then a title card comes on that says Katie hasn’t been seen since the recovery of Micah’s body.
SPOLIER ALERT: three movies later and there’s been no evidence caught of this girl’s boobs.
Seems relatively tame compared to where found footage movies have resorted to now, but the subtleties of things like doors opening and closing or an unknown force blowing Katie’s hair is what makes the movie so successful. I’m not the only one to have drawn comparisons of Paranormal Activity to The Blair Witch Project and that’s because they’re both successful for certain reasons. One reason has to do with the fact that visual quality that’s so poor, it simply can’t be faked. With most found footage movies produced by a larger studio, you can see the forced authenticity of a group of people filming their spooky encounters. You can’t quite put your finger on what makes these movies authentic, except for maybe actually knowing how inexpensive those cameras were. The acting is another thing that helps sell what’s going on, as even though these movies DO have scripts, there is a lot of room for improvisation, and not to discredit these actors, but you can tell that they aren’t trying to come across as normal people, but for the most part, they are just your average person. Less than stellar acting might annoy certain audiences, but for me, it just helps ground the audience in the conversations the individuals have, even if their reactions to these circumstances might seem silly.
However, there is evidence that demons get their periods out of their guts.
One of my biggest problems with Paranormal Activity 2 was the intensity of the scares that were taking place and the way the characters responded to them. Halfway through THAT movie, someone was being dragged up and down a flight of stairs which I’d say is far more intense than basically anything that happened in this movie. The subtlety of gags in this movie make it so you have to actually work to hear/see them, not just have these paranormal things get shoved down your throat. It makes you, the viewer, wonder if you did just hear what you thought you heard of maybe if you just imagined the sound of someone, or something, walking up the stairs. Also, the ending I mentioned was the theatrical ending, which was basically only filmed to give one more HUGE scare and to set things up for a sequel. The original ending also involved Katie coming back up the stairs after having killed Micah, but rather than throw his body, she just sits down on the floor. We see her sitting there for hours and we hear her friend come over and her reaction to Micah’s body, and eventually we see the police show up. When the police come up the stairs, Katie goes towards them with a knife, and they shoot and kill her. No sequel opportunities and no huge cathartic scare, but you get a much creepier end to your story that could just be explained away as a domestic dispute. It planted the seed in your head that maybe one of the violent crimes you heard about on the news was actually a situation like this one. Although the film is far from perfect, it’s still a very successful format and there’s a good reason why so many movies have tried to recreate the success of this film, and even though the audience knows it’s only a movie, the scares are a lot of fun and might make you listen a little bit more closely when you hear a strange noise in your bedroom. By the way, any strange noises you hear in MY bedroom are probably just dog farts. Definitely not human farts.
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