Scary movies are usually cheesy, primarily because they're overkill (pun intended). But when Steven Spielberg was reportedly so frightened watching "Paranormal Activity" that he had to stop halfway through, I'm there. From the beginning (no credits) to the terrifying conclusion (also no credits), this incredible movie breaks all the rules of conventional filmmaking.
First, it was made in one week. It cost only $15,000 to produce. Video-game designer turned director/writer Oren Peli shot it in his own home. Paramount provided midnight screenings in 13 college towns and asked audience members to go online and vote if they wanted it shown at their local multiplexes. More than 1 million did, which instigated a unique and highly effective marketing campaign. There are only four cast members — all unknowns. Hollywood should be shaking in their outrageously expensive boots.
"Paranormal Activity" begins on an eerie note, which implies that footage of a homemade film was discovered after the fact — footage shot by day trader Micah Sloat (himself), who lives with his girlfriend/college student, Katie Featherston (herself). Katie has had a history of being harassed by a paranormal presence since childhood. Recently, it has become increasingly menacing during nocturnal activities. Micah decides to videotape the house and leaves the camera running all night, while they sleep. At first, things slowly begin to go bump in the night. But, soon, they crest to a crescendo of pure terror.
What makes "Paranormal Activity" so intensely unsettling is the lack of visual horror. There are no special effects, fast cutting or ghoulish soundtrack symphonics. The fear is expertly implied by the ingeniousness of Peli, while audience members are left to their own imaginations and inner demons.
Peli owes Spielberg a debt of gratitude. Not only did he supply millions in free advertising, he was also instrumental in suggesting that Peli change his original ending — an ending that will literally shock you into a scream. Thanks, guys, for the nightmares.
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