[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B0030IMZ3O][/pullquote] In 2007, director Oren Peli, on a shoe-string budget of $15,000, created a found footage horror film called Paranormal Activity. He, like so many film-makers had struggled to find someone to take a chance on him and distribute the film. Paramount Pictures did take a chance, and released the film in September 2009. With a marketing campaign that focused on the reaction of the audiences and cuts of scary footage, word-of-mouth spread like wildfire and the film became a commercial success. And it stands in fact, it is the most commercially profitable film of all time having taken $194m from the total cost of $315,000.
Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) are a young couple who have recently moved to San Diego, California together. Katie claims that she has been haunted by a spirit ever since she was a child and it follows her from home to home. Micah buys a video camera to document the move and to try and catch some footage of the ˜spirit.’ Mounting the camera on a tripod in the corner of their bedroom, the couple go to sleep and strange things begin to happen.
Originally Dreamworks (who owned the rights before being bought out by Paramount) planned to remake it with a much bigger budget. They ran test screenings to gauge which elements of the film were successful with the general public. Upon seeing people leave the cinema early, there were fears that they had bought something that would be unsuccessful. However when asked, the people explained that it was too scary to stay. Paramount immediately stopped plans for the reshoot and released the film as it was.
The key to the success was the way that the static camera trained the audience when to be scared. The bedroom shot, now so synonymous with the franchise, always showed the really terrifying moments, so whenever it clicked on, accompanied by the now familiar low hum, the audience knew that something was going to happen. The naturalistic approach of the cast in the intermediate shots helped to create an atmosphere of truth and reality, which only helped build the tension of the supernatural events of the bedroom.
So successful was Paranormal Activity that a prequel/sequel, Paranormal Activity 2, was immediately put into production although this time without the inclusion of Peli. This became the franchise to succeed the long-running Saw films, which had seen declining audiences in the later efforts. It marked a change in audience sensibilities to horror films.