I don’t think I can talk about Paranormal Activity without mentioning The Blair Witch Project, because the same thing is going to happen to this movie.
Paranormal Activity is good. It was shot by Oren Peli on a budget of $11,000 – even if the version Paramount Pictures is releasing is a tad more expensive, the core of the film is cheaply shot. Paramount bought the film with the intention of remaking it, but when they held a screening for writers they had a near-record amount of walk outs. The studio thought they had a bomb until the talked to the walk outs: they had left because they were scared.
In 1999 The Blair Witch Project was released on the general public. It was an independent phenomena that ended up grossing $248 million on a $60,000 budget. The backlash was quick to come. The shaky cam was too much for people, not enough actually happened on screen for the hardcore horror fans, a number of valid and fictional reasons piled on the media hype for this movie, eventually leading to one of the film’s stars, Heather Donahue, to call the experience a “train wreck.”
When I saw The Blair Witch Project, it was in limited release like Paranormal Activity is now. I was taken by a friend of mine and I had no idea what I was in for. As we waited in line, a Lionsgate representative gave everyone a glossy mini-magazine with press clippings and backstory of what we were about to see. Then we saw it, and we were blown away. When Blair Witch was released wide and the print was forced to grain out over the large screens of the nation’s multiplexes, I saw the film twice more and neither time replicated the atmosphere of the first. The movie did its job with its editing and story, but the atmosphere was never there. The movie’s hand had been tipped, its secret out.
Paranormal Activity stands to do the exact same thing down to the letter.
I’m not a huge horror fan, but I can appreciate it. I’ll take fear of the unseen over the gore of the torture porn subgenre, but I don’t mind seeing someone’s head cleaved in half. That doesn’t happen in Paranormal Activity. I’m not going to say what happens in Paranormal Activity except to say this: If you can and have up to this point, avoid the trailer. It’s not misleading, but the necessary evil of teasing money shots in three-second blasts doesn’t serve what this movie is. I didn’t ever leap out of my chair at a jump scene, but I did do some nervous gripping of the arm rests.
Paranormal Activity is “found footage” shot by Micah Sloat and his girlfriend Katie Featherston. Kate has been haunted by something since she was 8 and Micah is determined to tape the phenomena even as things get worse.
The problem with a movie this cheap being this good isn’t what you initially think it is. Remember Blair Witch? Remember your smart ass friends worrying that now any crappy little movie with no action could be shot on a Hi-8 camera and released? Remember how that didn’t happen?
The problem with the cheap-to-good ratio is that the studio that releases it doesn’t know when to scale back the hype for maximum effectiveness. They don’t need to, because even if they get your butt in the seat and you hate it, you still paid for your butt space. But, the hype on this one isn’t going to help it. If you go below a $20,000 budget, your film is going to have some visual limitations (or you end up being Robert Rodriguez), and the movie season we’re in now – coming out of summer and into Halloween – is peppered with leftover, flashy fare (Pandorum, anyone?). Paranormal Activity may have been a fantastic movie going experience and I could have resorted to hyperbolae and written something like: “The most fun I’ve had at the theater all year!”
But Paranormal Activity can’t live up to that, and the movie deserves to be seen with little-to-no expectation if at all possible.
Spoiler: It’s not possible. Countdown to backlash, starting now.
Demand Paranormal Activity in your area HERE.