Spreading Fear: Paranormal Activity

by Sarah Delaney

The nightmares began in October 2009, nationwide. Thirty-nine year old former video game designer, Oren Peli, formulated an innovative and horrifying thriller called Paranormal Activity starring Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat that was released October 9th.

Although fictional, the film was shot as a documentary, following a young couple through their day-to-day activities which had lately become disturbed by haunting. The actors kept their actual names in the movie, which made it even more realistic for the viewer.

In the movie, a woman named Katie explains to Micah, her boyfriend, that she had been experiencing illogical and unexplainable strange occurrences.  Katie points out that most of these things happen during the night when she is trying to sleep. Often, she hears whispering in her ear, or sometimes her name being faintly called out. She feels she cannot escape from this unusual presence around her.  Her boyfriend Micah, a humorous and outgoing character, decides to film these unusual occurrences by setting up a camera in their bedroom that records continually throughout the night. He catches the phenomenon, and what he finds is highly disturbing and frightening.

Perhaps more interesting than the film itself, however, is the way it was publicized.  A series of filmed reactions circulated on youtube, as well as numerous rumors of people being so scared they left the theater, or others so nervous  they began shaking or vomitted. The public anticipation and curiosity surrounding Paranormal Activity was only heightened by these accusations.

Of course, it was equally imperative that I see this movie. I was not brave enough to see it independently, so I convinced a few of my friends to come along. However, it didn’t feel like any other movie experience.  “Just a water,” each of us said at the candy counter, nervously. The rain pounded on the roof of the theatre, and a roll of thunder made the ticket collector jump. “It’s the third theatre on the left,” he said, handing us our stubs. We walk red slowly down the hallway into the dark theatre to find only a few other people. We sat down, and the projector soon began rolling the tape.

.     .     .

My friends and I silently left the theatre, reflecting on what we had just seen. Trying to lighten the mood, each of us attempted to make a joke about the still-vivid images in the movie.  However, no laughter emerged. We were all in utter shock.

For a fan of horrors, the movie went beyond my expectations. Of course, I was a bit shaken, but when I looked back, I was able to identify what seems to have made it so successful. The documental style it utilized was compelling and made the story line seem incredibly realistic. I was never bored, but always either laughing at Micah’s humorous antics, or screaming at the frightening effects that made my blood ran cold.

The feature was made with merely  $15,000, but has attracted millions of horror-movie lovers from all over the country. It first premiered at the Scream Festival on October 7th, 2007 and after a successful screening, it was shown again at the Sundance Film Festival on January 18th, 2008.  Afterward, there were several showings around college campuses, until enough word was spread for the movie to move to the big screen.

The film was advertised solely through Youtube; therefore costs for advertising were substantially reduced. The promotion through Youtube proved successful and the movie collected $61 million in the first two weeks it was out, making other horror films with similar opening dates, such as The Fourth Kind and Saw IV, seem to fall short by comparison.

But why is this movie so popular? What made it so scary? The movie explores the secret reasons we jump in our beds during the night, and it dramatizes them to a point where the members of the audience begin to believe that a horrible presence could be haunting them as well.

So when the wind whistles through our windowpanes, the air conditioning suddenly clicks on, or the squirrel living in the attic scratches the ceiling, our minds point directly towards some supernatural or unexplainable haunting effect. That’s why so many people were sitting at the edge of their seats, and why others experienced nightmares after seeing it. Oren Peli uses our everyday, sometimes unexplainable occurrences, and paints a horrifying picture around them. He knows how to affect people more deeply than the ordinary horror film would, and for this reason, the imprint it leaves on your psyche becomes unavoidable. Even the promotion for the movie warns you not to see it alone…

Careful; you may not want to watch it in the dark…or by yourself…

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