Thursday, November 5, 2009

Paranormal Activity

The latest Indie phenomenon to hit movie theaters worldwide, "Paranormal Activity" is making independent cinema history.   It is currently number one in the box office.  And as of yesterday, it has grossed $86,944,269 in the United States and Canada alone, making it the most profitable (box office sales to production cost) independent film ever, toppling long-time cult favorite "The Blair Witch Project".  Made with a total budget of just around$15,000, it is a story about a young couple who uses a video camera to capture the paranormal activities they are experiencing in their home.

Shot with one video camera and a crew of 3 by Israeli born first-time writer/director Oren Peli, "Paranormal Activity" was shot for 7 days straight in 2006 at Peli's own house in San Diego. The basic idea for the movie, came from Peli's own fear of ghosts and his own experience with night time noises in his own home. As soon as he had a basic outline for the story, he held a marathon casting session in Hollywood that attracted around 150 actors and actresses. Among the hopefuls were Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston, who both saw the casting call advertised on Craigslist.  Peli hired them for $500, simply because they had great chemistry and was convincing as a real couple.  Peli lucked out, since both actors turned out to be real professionals and Micah even had previous experience as a cameraman in his University's TV station (making him perfect for the role and the de facto cameraman for the movie).

Wanting to tap into our most primal fears, Peli deliberately staged most of the 'Paranormal Activity' that happens in the movie at night, when most of us feel vulnerable.  Taking his cue from "The Blair Witch Project," he opted for a more home-made feel by using a hand-held video camera -- because it gave the movie a raw believability (as well as substantial savings in equipment and crew).  The dialogue was also more natural because there was no real script, but just an outline of the story, and the actors were made to improvise.  Shot out of sequence, the footage was edited on Sony Vegas editing software (on a home PC) as soon as they finalize each scene, with the visual effects applied at the same time.

The movie premiered at the Screamfest: Horror Film Festival 2007.  The Screamfest screening help land Peli an agent in CAA and a place in Slamdance.  Miramax Films Senior Executive Jason Blum and his partner Steven Schneider saw the film and started working with Peli to tighten and smoothen the rougher segments of the movie.  After seeing a copy of the movie, a Dreamworks Production Executive pestered her boss Adam Goodman to see it and the movie went up the line to Steven Spielberg, who liked the film and greenlighted a remake.  Paramount then acquired the domestic rights to the film, and international rights to potential sequels for $300,000.  During the negotiations, Blum and Peli negotiated a 'one-time' screening into the contract to see how the audience will react to the original.  It was during this screening that a decision was made to can the remake and release the original version of the film.  It was originally scheduled to be release on 2008, but the split between Paramount and Dreamworks delayed it.  Adam Goodman, now a Paramount Executive, finally released the film this year (Sept. 25 - limited; Oct. 16 - wide).

I gave this movie an 'Absolutely Brilliant' rating for two reasons:

1.  No one can argue with the movie's box office results.  Earning 87 million in just three weeks (in Canada and the US alone) from a $15,000 budget is a miraculous feat.  The movie is a proven audience favorite and crowd pleaser.  Even if it bombs in the foreign market, the movie is already a success in anyone's book (certainly in mine) and has given its principals a windfall profit.  As I have said, cinema is only half art -- it is also a business.

2.  The plot, although simple and straight forward, is quite effective for the movie's unpretentious goal -- It was meant to be a scary movie and it is, nothing more.  From the reviews I've come across (both professional and amateur), most everyone seem to agree that it was worth the price of the ticket.  As a matter of fact, the movie is continuing to gather so much momentum and buzz, that there is now a legion of fanatic fans out there raving about it.  It is definitely on the way to becoming a  cult classic!

I like the movie for the same reason I like the "The Blair Witch Project," or any of the other horror movies I love.  I did not actually find it that scary (maybe because I was analyzing it too much).  What I actually love is how the movie builds up suspense.  Like the "The Blair Witch Project," it does not use cheap effects and make-up to frighten us, a trap it could have easily fallen into because of its meager budget and resources.  But instead, it employs old fashioned 'slow build-up' suspense techniques we seldom see in more bigger budget horror flicks which employ inordinate amounts of graphic violence and gore.  I think our minds are more fertile than anything that Hollywood can materialize on screen (no matter how big a budget or how sophisticated the technology can be).  This is why the original "Jaws" will always be superior to the sequels -- it is not about seeing the actual shark, it is about seeing the more scarier shark in our own minds that creates the horror!

I recommed this film to everyone, with a warning:  If you are overimaginative or prone to see things in the dark, maybe you should just watch another movie instead.

Here is a trailer of the movie:

For more information on the movie, go to:

-- Photos from Trailer taken from YouTube.

1 comment:

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