Every once in a while, an album, or movie or a form of art will be released and it’ll change the industry. In 2009, Paranormal Activity rocked the world.
It seems as if with every big horror film, somebody is out there claiming it to be the scariest film of all time. This happened with The Babadook, The Conjuring, Hereditary and will never stop. The truth is there’s no real way of calculating that officially, as that is someone’s opinion, but not a proven fact. That being said, everyone who went to see Paranormal Activity walked away terrified. It truly captured a very specific moment in not only the horror community, but just movie fans as a whole.
For one, the film was entirely word of mouth and viral marketing. While the film played at multiple film festivals before it finally played in 12 college towns on September 25th, 2009. The director, Oren Peli then told the internet to request the film play in their town, and over the next month, it hit one million requests. So Paramount put it out as a wide release on October 16th, and then even more theatres on the 23rd.
The movie plays like a spiritual descendent of The Blair Witch Project, it is treated as if someone has found the movie, perfectly edited as it is. And that is, so well cut and paced. Anxiously making you anticpate and be fearful of every single time it’s time for Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) to go to bed. They also expertly set up enough story to let the films keep coming. As if a movie that cost roughly $15,000 to make but still gross almost 200 million dollars would stop at one. I’m aware that about $200,000 went into post-production for the final budget, but they still broke even, and then some.
11 (or rather, 13) years later, I finally watched the film in full for the first time. I found the series on blu-ray for way cheaper than expected. I put in the disc, and turned off all the lights to watch the horror film the way all horror films are intended to be watched.
It’s a strange feeling watching a film after it becomes so intertwined with the zeitgeist. You feel as if you know everything that happens, and that goes even more so when every year after this, we had either a sequel to the series or a pale imitation of this. Found footage films weren’t reinvented with Paranormal Activity, it just hit the mainstream around the same time handheld cameras had improved enough that they could be blown up and screened on giant movie theatre screens without being too noisey or frankly, ugly.
The film follows Katie slowly realize that even though she had an interaction with a Ouija board as a child, and whatever she spoke to, never left her side. Micah idiotically and rudely reacts to the news and tells her its something that should have been brought up before moving in together. Which, comes as a bit as a surprise since it’s the first time he seems to take any of what’s occuring remotely seriously. It’s clear he only bought the camera in hopes that Katie might agree to make a sex tape. As he brings it up again, and again. And again.
When the lights turn off, the film does genuinely scare you. As your eyes anxiously dart around the screen looking for some sign of action, or your ears try to pay attention to every noise. On top of that, at night there is a timelapse up until something is about to happen. So once you see the time slow down and become real time, you can feel your heart beat faster in anticipation in whatever happens next.
Nobody could have predicted that Paranormal Activity would jumpstart a new craze of found footage horror films. But also, it was the first big Blumhouse productions title. And it started their low-budget model that has constantly proven itself again, and again.
Not only is the film memorable and important to film history, especially within the horror community, but it’s also actually pretty good. It also told a lot of people that you can make a film without a real script and a camera, so it’s motivating too.