Paranormal Activity is a 2007 American supernatural horror film co-produced, written, directed, photographed and edited by Oren Peli. It centers on a young couple (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) who are haunted by a supernatural presence in their home. They then set up a camera to document what is haunting them. The film utilizes found-footage conventions that were mirrored in the later films of the series.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Oren Peli|
|Written by||Oren Peli|
|Edited by||Oren Peli|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$193.4 million|
Originally developed as an independent feature and given film festival screenings in 2007, the film was acquired by Paramount Pictures and modified, particularly with a new ending. It was given a limited U.S. release on September 25, 2009, and then a nationwide release on October 16, 2009. The film earned nearly $108 million at the U.S. box office and a further $85 million internationally for a worldwide total of $193 million. Paramount/DreamWorks acquired the U.S. rights for $350,000. It is the most profitable film ever made, based on return on investment, although such figures are difficult to verify independently as this is likely to exclude marketing costs.
The film is the first (chronologically, the third) entry in the Paranormal Activity film series. A parallel sequel and prequel, Paranormal Activity 2, was released in 2010. The success of the first two films would spawn additional films in the series: the prequel Paranormal Activity 3 in 2011, and Paranormal Activity 4 (the sequel to the second installment) in 2012. The fifth installment, The Marked Ones, was released in 2014, and the sixth installment, The Ghost Dimension, was released in 2015.
On June 19, 2019, Paramount announced that a seventh installment is in development.
Young couple Katie and Micah move to a new house in San Diego. Katie claims an evil presence has been haunting her since she was a child, so Micah sets up a camera in their bedroom to record any paranormal activity that occurs while they sleep. A famous psychic Dr. Fredrichs, who reveals that Katie is being haunted by a demon that feeds off the negative energy and is intent on tormenting Katie, advises them not to communicate with the demon and to contact demonologist Dr. Johann Averies if needed. Katie seems interested, but Micah does not take this seriously.
The camera captures many strange occurrences, which are minor at first, such as noises, flickering lights, and doors moving on their own. However, Micah taunts and mocks the demon, worsening the situation. During the thirteenth night, the demon angrily screeches and there is a loud thud, causing the entire house to vibrate. Voice recorder tests are conducted by Micah the following morning, which reveal demonic grunting when Micah asks if it would like to use a Ouija board. During the fifteenth night, Katie, in a clear trance, stands beside the bed and stares at Micah for two hours before going outside. Micah tries to convince Katie to go back inside, but she refuses and appears to remember none of it the next day.
Micah brings home an Ouija board, which infuriates Katie. When they leave the house, the camera records an unseen force moving the planchette to form an unknown message on the Ouija board, which then spontaneously catches fire. Katie sees the video and pleads with Micah to contact the demonologist, but again he refuses. During the seventeenth night, Micah sprinkles baby powder in the hallway and outside the bedroom door. The couples are awakened by creaks, and find non-human footprints leading to the attic where Micah finds a burnt photograph of a young Katie (same picture from the second film). Katie finally calls the demonologist but learns he is out of the country.
The events of the seventeenth night have psychologically terrified the couple which has strengthened the demon. Over the next few nights, the paranormal activity is excessive and intense. They eventually call Dr. Fredrichs back to the house, but he is overwhelmed by the demonic energy upon entering. He apologetically leaves despite their pleas, stating that his presence only makes the demon angrier. The bleak reality causes the couple to lose all hope, which makes the demon strong enough to pull Katie out of the bedroom and bite her, causing her to become fully possessed. Micah discovers the bite mark and—deciding events are too out of control to remain in the house—he packs to head to a motel. Just as they are set to leave, the possessed Katie insists they will be okay now.
The following night, Katie gets out of bed and stares at Micah for two hours before going downstairs. After a moment of silence, Katie screams for Micah; he abruptly rushes to help her. Afterward, Micah exclaims in pain, Katie stops screaming, and then heavy footsteps are heard coming upstairs. Suddenly, Micah’s body is violently hurled at the camera which is knocked off the tripod, revealing a demonic Katie standing in the doorway. She slowly walks into the room, stained with blood, and crawls to Micah’s body, then looks up at the camera with a grin. As she lunges toward the camera, her face takes on a demonic appearance just as the scene cuts to black. Epilogue text states that Micah’s body was discovered by the police on October 11, 2006, and Katie’s whereabouts remain unknown.
Attempting to focus on believability rather than action and gore, Peli chose to shoot the picture with a home video camera. In deciding on a more raw and stationary format (the camera was almost always sitting on a tripod or something else) and eliminating the need for a camera crew, a "higher degree of plausibility" was created for the audience as they were "more invested in the story and the characters". Peli says that the dialogue was "natural" because there was no real script. Instead, the actors were given outlines of the story and situations to improvise, a technique known as "retroscripting" also used in the making of The Blair Witch Project. In casting the movie, Peli auditioned "a few hundred people" before finally meeting Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat. He originally auditioned them individually and later called them back to audition together. Peli was impressed with the chemistry between the actors, saying, "If you saw the [audition] footage, you would've thought they had known each other for years." During a guest appearance on The Jay Leno Show on November 3, 2009, Sloat and Featherston explained they each saw the casting call on LACasting. Featherston noted they were originally paid $500 for their work.
The film was shot out of sequence due to Peli's self-imposed seven-day shooting schedule, though Peli would have preferred the story unfold for the actors as he had envisioned it. Sloat, who controlled the camera for a good deal of the film, was a former cameraman at his university's TV station. "It was a very intense week", Peli said, stating that the film would be shot day and night, edited at the same time, and would have the visual effects applied to it as the acting footage was being finalized. Multiple endings were conceived, but not all of them were shot.
The film was screened at 2007's Screamfest Horror Film Festival, where it impressed an assistant at the Creative Artists Agency, Kirill Baru, so much that CAA signed on to represent Peli. Attempting to find a distributor for the film and/or directing work for Peli, the agency sent out DVDs of the movie to as many people in the industry as they could, and it was eventually seen by Miramax Films Senior Executive Jason Blum, who thought it had potential. He worked with Peli to re-edit the film and submitted it to the Sundance Film Festival, but it was rejected. The DVD also impressed DreamWorks executives Adam Goodman, Stacey Snider, and finally Steven Spielberg, who cut a deal with Blum and Peli.
DreamWorks' plan was to remake the film with a bigger budget and with Peli directing, and only to include the original version as an extra when the DVD was eventually released. "They didn't know what to do with [the original]", said Blum; they just wanted to be "in business" with Peli. Blum and Peli agreed, but stipulated a test screening of the original film before going ahead with the remake, believing it would be well received by a theatrical audience.
During the screening, people began walking out; Goodman thought the film was bombing, until he learned that the viewers were actually leaving because they were so frightened. He then realized a remake was unwise. Paramount Pictures, which acquired DreamWorks in 2005, bought the domestic rights to the film, and worldwide rights to any sequels, for US$350,000. When the film was taken in by Paramount, several changes were made. Some scenes were cut, others added, and the original ending was scrapped, with two new endings being shot. The ending shown in theaters during the film's worldwide release is the only one of the three to feature visual effects, and it differs from the endings previously seen at the Screamfest and Burbank screenings. The theatrical release was delayed indefinitely because Paramount had put all DreamWorks productions on hold. Meanwhile, a screening for international buyers resulted in the sale of international rights in 52 countries. Only after Goodman became production chief at Paramount in June 2009 did the film finally get slated for a fall release.
Once Paramount acquired the film, the original ending was scrapped, and two new endings were developed for the film, one of them being the one seen in theaters (the scrapped ending was shown at only one public viewing).
Katie returns to the bedroom and sits down against the bed with the knife in her hand, rocking back and forth, for almost two days straight. Her friend Amber calls and leaves a message, saying that she is concerned because she hasn't heard from Katie or Micah. Amber eventually comes looking for her, but when she enters the house, she is heard screaming after seeing Micah's body. The creature possessing Katie leaves her body, scaring Amber out of the house before returning to Katie, who resumes rocking back and forth.
Police officers arrive at the house about a half hour later and discover Micah's body as well. They call to Katie, who wakes from her catatonic state and seems confused. Katie comes out of the bedroom with the knife still in her hand. The police ask her to drop the knife. Following a heated confrontation, a door behind one of the police officers slams shut, startling one of the officers, which causes him to shoot Katie, killing her. The film ends with the police investigating the area and finding nothing but the camera, still running.
In this ending, available as an alternate ending in the home releases of the film, Katie returns to the bedroom after the screaming and noise of her and Micah struggling downstairs. She is holding a knife and covered in blood. She closes and locks the bedroom door. Katie walks over and smiles at the camera before cutting her own throat. The screen then fades to black.
A third alternate ending was written in which a possessed Katie would corner Micah and bludgeon him to death with his camera, while viewers watch from the camera's point of view. This version was deemed too complicated and too brutal to shoot.
Paranormal Activity premiered at Screamfest Horror Film Festival in North America on October 14, 2007, was shown at the Slamdance Film Festival on January 18, 2008, and screened at the 36th Annual Telluride Film Festival on September 6, 2009.
The version with the new ending, made after Paramount acquired the film, had screenings on September 25, 2009, in twelve college towns across the United States. The venues included Ann Arbor, MI; Baton Rouge, LA; Boulder, CO; Columbus, OH; Durham, NC; Lincoln, NE; Madison, WI; Orlando, FL; Santa Cruz, CA; Seattle, WA; State College, PA; and Tucson, AZ. Eleven of the twelve venues sold out with State College, PA being the only exception due to a Penn State football game that was held the same night. On his website, director Oren Peli invited internet users to "demand" where the film went next by voting on Eventful. This was the first time a major motion picture studio used the service to virally market a film. On September 28, Paramount issued a press release on Peli's website, announcing openings in 20 other markets on October 2, including larger market cities such as New York and Chicago.
On October 3, it was reported that a total of 33 screenings in all 20 markets had sold out and that the film had earned $500,000 domestically. A day later, Paramount announced that the film would have a full limited release in 40 markets, playing at all hours (including after-midnight showings). On October 6, Paramount announced that the movie would be released nationwide if the film received one million "demands" on Eventful. The full limited release of the film started on October 9. On October 10, the Eventful.com counter hit over one million requests. Paramount announced soon after that the film would get a wide domestic release on October 16 and expand to more theaters on the October 23. By November, it was showing in locales worldwide.
Paranormal Activity was released on DVD and Blu-ray on December 29, 2009. The home release includes an alternate ending to the theatrical version. It was released in the United Kingdom on March 22, 2010, on DVD and Blu-ray with some specials. In the Netherlands the movie received a release on VHS in 2010.
Additionally, at the end of the film, 15 minutes' worth of names were added to the DVD release, as part of a special promotion: the fans who "demanded" the film were asked by email if they wanted to have their name appear as a thank you for the film's success.
The film received mostly positive reviews upon release. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an overall approval rating of 83% based on 199 reviews, with an average rating of 7/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Using its low-budget effects and mockumentary method to great result, Paranormal Activity turns a simple haunted house story into 90 minutes of relentless suspense." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 68 out of 100 based on 24 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Film critics James Berardinelli and Roger Ebert each awarded it 3.5 stars out of a maximum of 4 stars. Ebert stated in his review, "It illustrates one of my favorite points, that silence and waiting can be more entertaining than frantic fast-cutting and berserk f/x. For extended periods here, nothing at all is happening, and believe me, you won't be bored." Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman gave Paranormal Activity an A− rating and called it "frightening...freaky and terrifying" and said that "Paranormal Activity scrapes away 30 years of encrusted nightmare clichés." Bloody Disgusting ranked the film 16th in their list of the "Top 20 Horror Films of the Decade", with the article saying, "Peli deserves props for milking the maximum amount of tension out of the spare, modern setting—an ordinary, cookie-cutter tract home in San Diego. It doesn't sound very scary, but Peli manages to make it terrifying. If you aren't white-knuckling your armrest at least once or twice while watching it, you probably don't have a pulse."
However, some critics disliked the film. Michael Carter of The Breeze summed up the film as "all right", though denouncing its reliance on "cheap jump scares and an even cheaper 'found footage' style". David Stratton of the Australian television series At the Movies said that "it was extremely unthrilling, very obvious, very clichéd. We've seen it all before." Marc Savlov of The Austin Chronicle called it "an excruciatingly tedious YouTube gag cleverly marketed to go viral". Bill Gibron of PopMatters listed the film as the second worst horror film of all time, writing that it lacked "anything remotely redeeming for the seasoned fright fan", and was "a waste of time in both concept and execution".
The film opened on September 25, 2009 to twelve theaters and took $36,146 on its opening day and $77,873 on its first weekend for an average of $6,489 per venue. It had more success when it opened to 33 theaters on October 1, 2009, doubling the box office reception, grossing $532,242 for an average of $16,129 per venue, bringing the 10-day total to $776,763.
As it expanded to 160 theaters on the October 9–11 weekend, the film grossed $2,659,296 on that Friday, having a per-theater average of $16,621. It went on to gross $7,900,695. Over the weekend, the film reached the week's highest per-theater average of $49,379, coming in at fourth for the weekend, behind Couples Retreat, Zombieland, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Over the weekend of October 16, 2009, Paranormal Activity expanded to 600 more theaters, grossing $19,617,650 with $25,813 per theater average gross, and bringing the total gross to $33,171,743. On the weekend of October 23, 2009, Paranormal Activity rose to first, beating out Saw VI, earning $21,104,070, expanding to 1,945 theaters for an average of $10,850 per theater, compared with the $14,118,444 gross from 3,036 theaters, and $4,650 average for Saw VI. The film has grossed $107,918,810 domestically and $85,436,990 in foreign markets, with a total gross of $193,355,800.
In Japan, a sequel entitled Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night was released in 2010. Also in 2010, mockbuster group The Asylum created their take on the film, titled Paranormal Entity, which would later spawn a series of its own.
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