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As a young boy, Oren Peli first watched “The Exorcist” without knowing where his childhood fascination with horror flicks would go. For Peli, it was more than just watching them. He wanted to be making them.
Peli has found his way to Hollywood as an up-and-coming director. “Paranormal Activity” is his first feature film.
In 2007, a real life event sparked his imagination even deeper into the world of horror films. Using his filmmaker instinct, Peli combined his love of horror films and his own paranormal experience into a film, not knowing it would end up bringing him closer to his dream of big screen stardom.
“Paranormal” follows a young couple as they move into their San Diego home. Micah (Micah Sloat) and Katie’s (Katie Festherston) relationship might seem like the Hollywood cliché of a couple in love and living together, but their performances were so natural it blended perfectly with the film’s overall style.
When Peli moved into his first house he could not explain the weird noise that he heard.
“The fact that there were strange things happening and I couldn’t explain them logically kind of got me thinking, what if I had a video camera?” said Peli. “I thought if we made something happen to a narrative that would actually make a pretty interesting movie.” He compared “Paranormal Activity” to “ The Blair Witch Project”, “Open Water”, and “The Others”because of the psychological nature of those films.
Peli said that after watching those movies it showed him that with a very modest budget and decent script it could be like a backdoor entry into the industry.
He toured the film at the Screamfest and Slamdance festivals for two years before “Paranormal Activity” recently got picked up by Paramount Pictures to be released theatrically.
Peli said his original expectations for the film were to make a movie he would enjoy watching, and to do it in an interesting way without having to rely on over-the–top special effects. He said he was also interested in playing with the psychology of the human mind to connect with the audience.
“In recent years many of the horror movies are the more jump-scare kind with special effects and gore. They’re entertaining in their own way but they don’t really end up scaring me,”Peli said.
Staying true to his original plan, “Paranormal Activity” was made on a $10,000 budget in the original home he first moved into. He planned for one year to shoot it all in seven days, and only using one Sony HD camera.
Attempting to show supernatural activity that we cannot see with the naked eye was not a challenge for Peli. He said he uses the philosophy “less is more” for a realistic effect.
“During the nighttime shots when you know something is going to happen, your eye keeps scanning the room looking for something. Anything out of the ordinary becomes very unsettling. So just let them use their own imagination,”Peli said.
In the movie as the couple settles into their new house, Katie feels that she is being haunted by a nagging spirit or mysterious force. After a while Micah sets up a video camera to watch for unusual occurrences in the house. What they document is hand clenching, eye squinting, and scary. It’s on one particular night when the two are together in their bedroom when terror strikes, filling a dark room with creepy noises and random, unexplainable events.
Different from Hollywood horror, Peli focused on the realism of the supernatural event to get audiences out of their comfort zone and in a state of uneasiness.
“People respond to the fact that this is all about what happens at home, on your own bed, at night while you’re asleep and most vulnerable,” Peli said. “But you can never escape being asleep at your home. It’s kind of like one of those primal fears, what may be preying on you when you don’t even know it.”Brett King, a psychology professor at CU, said he walked out of the theater impressed with the overall narrative of the film. Even though it didn’t compare to most films, there were some special parts that made it memorable.
“In the 21st century when we’ve already seen everything with blood and gore, it was really impressive it could be so great at showing so little. They really created fear with just footsteps,” said King.
Peli’s intent throughout this low-budget movie was to make it as simple and realistic as possible. He makes up for budget limitations with the nuances of simple editing and seamless cuts and adds a dash of authentic homemade feel to make it a very pleasing, but unnerving aesthetic.
A highlight of the film is watching the two through their amateur, self-shot video footage from the camera placed in the corner of the room. Katie and Micah are no doubt curious as to what is happening to them. They try various ways to rid their house of the haunted, but find no escape.
Kings added that the characters were a big part on why the film was successful.
“It was slow at first, I though I was watching a ‘Friends’ episode but they set it up well through character development and patience in the filmmaking,” King said. “All the movies now try to get right to the thrill but I think this one paid off in the end while having respect for the audience.”
Horror films affect viewers in different ways. Peli said that after Steven Spielberg watched the film he slept with the lights on afterwards. People watch because of a sense of curiosity and the unknown. He describes horror films as a way people deal with fears in a more controlled environment.
“It’s the same reason people go on thrill rides. It’s more than just a movie- it’s an experience.”
Jessica McMaster, a senior psychology major, said the intensity of the movie was alarming.
“It was fun and completely terrifying,” said McMaster. “I definitely wouldn’t go see it without a group of people and I’m sleeping at my friends house tonight because it goes that deep into the human psyche.”
“Paranormal” opens Friday Sept. 25 in select college towns, including Boulder, and is slated to go nationwide in mid October.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sara Handing at Sara.email@example.com.