Paranormal Activity (1971)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on October 16, 2009 @

God created the world in six days. It took indie director/producer Oren Peli one day more -- seven days -- to create his blockbuster movie, Paranormal Activity.

The world is a heavenly creation; the movie is a hellish delight.

Once in a full moon, a movie comes along that ignores all the established rules and yet somehow captivates a large, enthusiastic following. Paranormal Activity is such a phenomenon.

Paranormal Activity was made for a production budget of between $11,000 and $15,000. But the things that go bump in the night are ringing cash registers. Crowds -- especially young people -- love the movie.

Paranormal Activity is the absorbing story of a young couple who have moved into a house in suburban San Diego. The young woman Katie (Katie Featherston) is disturbed by strange things that go on in the house. Is it haunted?

Micah (Micah Sloat) buys a new camera with which he shoots almost everything in their life, even the trivial things. He decides to set up a video recorder -- attached to a laptop -- to record whatever mysterious occurrences may take place in their bedroom at night when they're asleep.

And he and Katie always have a handheld camera to record events during the day. As days and nights pass, dread increases, and the haunting escalates until one fateful night.

The film should never work. The production budget of less than $15,000 is tip money for the Hollywood moguls. Their industry depends on mega-million dollar productions.

Given its ungodly restraints, Paranormal Activity has to be a self-indulgent mess, right? Hardly. It has control, creativity, and humanity.

It must have had a large crew. No, Peli was director, producer, writer, and editor. Obviously he also was director of photography, although one is not credited. It appears that Peli used just two cameras to shoot his story.

Paranormal Activity must have CGI. No CGI.

Was it the set? No. Peli shot the film in his own house in San Diego, which he remodeled to fulfill the movie's needs. It's a normal suburban home.

The actors, since they're novices, have to be amateurish, don't they? They aren't; they're very effective. One of the elements that works best for Peli is his two leads. They're likable and believable. Credibility is crucial when suspension of disbelief hovers everywhere.

In one sequence the camera follows Micah out into the hallway when Katie, in panic, wouldn't ever take it with her in the throes of fear. Especially since she resists the camera. It's one of Peli's few lapses in credibility.

Actress Katie Featherston's chin and neck are not starlet material, but they are natural. The audience can relate to Katie and Micah as real people.

Paranormal Activity has to have a lot of gore, doesn't it? Nope. One of the three endings Peli shot is gory, but he settled on another. Steven Spielberg suggested the new ending after the saw the original film, and it is potent. Paranormal Activity is more mainstream than bloodstream.

The backstory of the making and marketing of Paranormal Activity is a doozy. You have to suspend your disbelief a lot more than when you see the film.

Paranormal Activity had its premiere at the Screamfest Film Festival in Los Angeles in October 2007. DVDs were sent to potential backers, but it got no distributors.

Eventually Jason Blum, formerly of Miramax and since 2000 head of Blumhouse Productions, got interested and helped director Peli edit and polish it into more effective shape. Still no distributor.

Paranormal Activity was rejected by the "prestigious" Sundance Film Festival. In 2008 Paranormal Activity was screened at the Slamdance Film Festival, and in 2009 it made the Telluride Film Festival.

Along the way film mogul and maestro Steven Spielberg got involved. A production executive at Dreamworks saw Paranormal Activity, loved it, and with enthusiasm got it passed up the chain of command, until Saint Steven viewed it and blessed it.

Paranormal Activity obviously must have reminded him of his first major film Duel (1971). It was made for TV and not released to American theaters until years later. Duel and Paranormal Activity share the compelling theme of the unknown.

Dreamworks bought the property from Peli. with the plans to remake it into a movie with well-known actors, but something unplanned happened. The original Paranormal Activity -- like an uncontrollable spirit -- had a life of its own.

The indie film had a screening which was dynamite, and eventually the idea of a remake was canceled. Word of mouth, midnight screenings, Internet support, and increased venues resulted in a wide distribution by Paramount Pictures.

Paranormal Activity shouldn't work, but it does. Fabulously. There will be a backlash to its success, but people should never forget the meager budget on which it was made, and how it used its budget.

Whatever one's reaction to seeing the film, Paranormal Activity is a phenomenal achievement.

© 2000-2021 Tony Macklin