Paranormal Activity and the subsequent prequels Paranormal Activity 2 and Paranormal Activity 3 are some of the most successful horror films in history. That’s quite an achievement when you consider the first film was made for around $30,000 and was shot entirely in the director’s home with two unknown actors that were hired after they responded to a casting call on Craigslist. How did a first time director make a movie that went on to gross millions of dollars for less than a price of luxury car? He played up the one fear that everyone has and that will scare everyone – the fear of the unknown. By not using over the top special effects and giving the audience just enough scary devices to let their own imaginations run like heavy footfalls, objects moving, and lights turning on and off by themselves. Nothing is scarier than what people imagine, so by creating the story and then inserting plot devices designed to tap into a primal fear of what is lurking in the dark the director, Oren Peli, managed to create a movie so terrifying that people were crying in the theater and some people even vomited from fear. All of the Paranormal Activity films are shot in the mockumentary “found footage” style that was pioneered by the Blair Witch Project. And like the Blair Witch Project the film had no real script. The director simply relayed the story to the actors and they improvised to make their interactions sound more authentic.
The story in all of the films follow Katie, an average girl played Katie Featherston. In the first film she has just moved in with her boyfriend Micah, played by Micah Sloat. Katie has experienced paranormal activity since she was a child and feels that she is still being plagued by an unseen entity. She is upset, so Micah gets a standard home video camera and mounts it on a tripod in their bedroom to try and catch any paranormal activity that might occur while they are sleeping. He does not take Katie’s fears seriously and doesn’t show a lot of fear of anything paranormal. Until they start to see things on the video tapes in the morning like lights turning on and off and the bedroom door opening and closing. Over the course of a few weeks the couple sees a dramatic uptick in activity after Micah taunts the entity. The eerie quality of the footage combined with the power of the audience’s imagination is what caused the film to be such a huge success, along with the ending. The original ending of the film was replaced when a major studio bought the rights to the independent film and re-released it.
In Paranormal Activity 2 and 3 the story of how the demon attached itself to Katie and the history of paranormal activity in Katie’s family is revealed in the same mockumentary style. Another Paranormal Activity film, Paranormal Activity 4, is in production now.