Monday, October 26, 2009

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Paranormal Activity:A horror Phenomenon

written by Richard Corliss

Oh, sweet Jesus, that nice couple Katie and Micah are about to go to sleep again! They already suspect that their house is haunted. Micah has propped up his video camera in their bedroom to record any unusual phenomena, so they'll know what awful thing happened the previous night, while they were sleeping. The bedroom door moved a couple of inches and then ... moved back!


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Big hairy deal, say cynics who were bred on gross-out horror movies. Show us heads exploding, chests busting, legs sawed off. Yet the packed audience at a late-night screening of Paranormal Activity in Times Square this past week didn't need gore effects to be scared witless. Yes, they knew it was only a movie — one that, like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield and plenty others before it, used "found footage" to give a patina of realism to the fanciful events that were dreamed up by writer-director Oren Peli and are endured by actors Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston (using their real names). But when that door moved, the crowd's collective gasp just about sucked all the oxygen out of the theater.
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The campaign to bring Paranormal Activity to the public is already a movie-industry legend. Shot three years ago by Peli, an Israeli-born video maker, for $11,000 in a week in his house, the picture played a few fright festivals in 2007. While DreamWorks considered buying the rights to do a remake with stars, Steven Spielberg took a copy of PA home to watch it; when he finished his screening, he found his bathroom door inexplicably locked. (He thought the DVD was haunted.) Two weeks ago, Paramount started playing Peli's film at midnight in 16 college towns. Many showings were sold out. Sorry, come back next week, if you dare. No tickets created a hot ticket — the movie grossed $1.2 million in its early, limited engagements — and Paramount stoked the fever by urging fans to go online and "demand" a wider release. More than a million such requests came in, allowing Paramount's website to brag that PA was "the first-ever major film release decided by You."

This weekend, PA has expanded to all-day runs on 159 screens in 44 cities, and according to early reports, it's headed for a box-office breakout — perhaps the highest three-day gross of any film showing in fewer than 200 venues. "Look out, cuz there's a freight train coming," an executive from a rival studio told Deadline Hollywood's Nikki Finke, "and Paramount is going to make a TON of cash on this pickup. Cuz they ain't spending anything on it, and who knows where the ceiling is!" The box-office figures will make headlines, giving the movie more free publicity and luring bigger crowds that are eager to learn what all the screaming is about.
(See the 100 best movies of all time.)

Beyond the viral ingenuity of the marketing, what's cool about PA is that it's not just a fun thrill ride; it's an instructive artistic experience. A horror-movie revisionist, Peli follows a less-is-more strategy. He knows that waiting for the big scary jolt does more damage to the nervous system than getting it. The tension builds slowly, as the apprehensive Katie, a student, and the skeptical Micah, a day trader, feel the first emotional tremors. The movie keeps us in its grip because we never leave the couple's haunted property and because all we see is what the camera has recorded when held by Micah or Katie, or when left on at night to monitor their bedroom. That claustrophobia creates a bond between the couple and the audience; they can't escape, and neither can we.

Peli downplays shock and emphasizes suspense: a shadow creeping across a wall or the ripple of an unseen form under the bedsheets. The gore scenes in splatter movies carry a sadistic punch, but those are outside most moviegoers' experience. What Peli is interested in is dread, a feeling everyone is familiar with. (Will I lose my job? Has she found someone else? Why hasn't our kid come home yet? What's that strange rash?) Movies take that anxiety, crystallize it and, because fiction demands an ending, resolve it. The threat is provided, the fear made flesh, the monster confronted. All gone — feel better? Horror movies provide vicarious psychotherapy in an hour and a half. PA is different. At the end, it doesn't let viewers off the hook. It leaves them hanging and dares them to turn that last shiver into a laugh of relief that the delicious ordeal is over.
(See 10 lessons from the summer box office.)

PA has less in common with modern gore movies than with certain avant-garde films of the late '60s, like Michael Snow's Wavelength — a murder mystery in the form of a single, slow, 45-min. zoom shot through a room — and Morgan Fisher's Phi Phenomenon, an 11-min. shot of a wall clock without a second hand. In Fisher's film, viewers were meant to concentrate so intently that they could see the minute hand move. PA uses a similar strategy: the stationary camera in the overnight bedroom scenes has a time code at the bottom right of the frame. Sometimes the clock spins like mad to show the passing of hours between phenomena — and in one super-creepy scene, there is the image of Katie standing motionless, as if still asleep, for two hours straight. It's even more chilling a few nights later, when Katie, clearly the more haunted of the two, again stands still for hours but this time on Micah's side of the bed.

If you're a horror-movie fraidy cat, know that most of the spooky stuff occurs in the bedroom, so — as with The Exorcist back in 1973 — you can steel yourself when the couple goes to sleep. Then too, you may not be scared at all by Paranormal Activity; but as you sit in a movie house, you should feel some fraternal pleasure in noticing that the folks around you are preparing or pretending to be scared. And you should be heartened to realize that — in an age of YouTube, iPod and DVR, where people get their visual media one by one — watching a fictional narrative can still be a communal activity. A thousand people sit as one in the dark, as fretful and enthralled as a child hearing a bedtime story and wondering, What happens next? No, I can't bear it! No, I have to see!


Saturday, October 24, 2009

What they say about Paranormal Activity...

I haven't slept for almost a week cos of Paranormal Activity!!!! It's totally f__ked me up. Don't c it if ur sensitive... Frida Farrel

So I just saw the trailer for #paranormal activity ...... Never will I watch this movie... shelltweettweet

so i saw paranormal activity tonight.....yea thats why i am wide awake still.. Alexabhatti

See the Terrifying Trailer!!!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Who made Paranormal Activity?

THERE are many things that can strike fear in a grown man’s heart — strange, unexplained noises in the night, the feeling that someone is whispering in your ear when no one is about — things that did seem to happen in the suburban home of the first-time director Oren Peli and that inspired his very low-budget movie “Paranormal Activity,” which totters this very moment on the precipice of pop-cult sensation. But the one that seems to make Mr. Peli most uncomfortable is the suggestion that he and the girlfriend with whom he lived when those strange goings-on took place should do an interview together.

“We’ve been broken up for two years,” Mr. Peli says. “It would be kind of weird.”

Ahhh, the complexities that ensue when art follows the paranormal and so much hangs on the marketing. Let us pause for a moment and invoke the sacred words “The Blair Witch Project” — although with “Paranormal Activity” No. 5 at the box office last weekend, the incantation may no longer be necessary.

The film deals with a young couple who move into a new home and encounter Strange Goings-On. Katie, who enjoys beading, is open to the idea of spirits; Micah, a day trader, is a skeptic who sets up a video camera in the bedroom to find out what is really happening.

Mr. Peli, a 39-year-old former day trader and Web designer, thought about setting up a video camera in the bedroom of his home here, after moving in several years ago, when he and his then-girlfriend, Toni Taylor, who enjoyed making beaded jewelry, were troubled by strange sounds. But it seemed like a better idea to make a movie about it.

He shot the film in his home in seven days, for a cost he estimates at $10,000, not including the requisite home improvement, which we shall deal with later. The two unknowns who played Katie and Micah, Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat (apparently the film was so low-budget they could not even afford new names), were each paid $500.

In a review last weekend, the New York Times film critic A. O. Scott called the movie a “crudely made, half-clever little frightener” with “a measure of ingenuity.” But the most withering criticism, to anyone with a shred of decorative self-respect, was Mr. Scott’s opinion that the house was “nondescript.”

In fact, its white stucco exterior has a certain Southern California charm, although it is identical to those of the other houses in the development. Inside, it is instantly evident that this is the home of a bachelor indie filmmaker: There’s a six-foot cardboard advertisement for “Paranormal Activity” to the left as you walk in; three computers and packages of Oreos and pretzels on the breakfast counter; and a den with a 73-inch Mitsubishi TV.

Mr. Peli, barefoot, in jeans and a shirt that might trace its paternity to soccer, is a low-key, friendly host, apologizing for constantly checking his messages and taking calls throughout the interview — he is in preproduction for another film, he explains.

He makes coffee, shares Oreos and runs through his bio, which includes growing up in Israel, where he was a computer geek who dropped out of high school at 16. At 17, he created a computer program with a friend, which brought in $120,000 and allowed them to go to the United States.

He lived first in Los Angeles, then moved to San Diego, where he worked in Web design. In 1999, when he was 29, he met Ms. Taylor, then 25, who set up phone systems for businesses. Neither believed in ghosts or an afterlife, though Ms. Taylor, like the woman in the movie, was more spiritually inclined. By January 2003, they were a serious couple looking for a place to raise a family, and they moved into this four-bedroom house.

What did it cost?

“Half a mil,” the former day trader says.

The noises started the first night he and Ms. Taylor were in the house.

“Toni grabs me and says, ‘There’s someone in the house,’ ” Mr. Peli says. “It ended up being the ice maker.”

Then things that were not as easily explained started happening. A large plastic container of detergent that weighed at least five pounds, and had been on a deep shelf, was found the next morning across the room. The couple began to feel vibrations in bed, and yet when they checked the United States Geological Survey site for earthquakes, there hadn’t been any. Oddest of all was Ms. Taylor’s persistent feeling that someone was whispering in her ear. Mr. Peli, who never heard any whispering, considered wiring the house to find the source, but decided against it.

Instead, he began writing a treatment for the film, bought a $3,000 Sony Fx1 camera and a computer for editing and, like any director, started framing the shots. Most of the action takes place in the bedroom, where the couple slept on a mattress on the floor. It was immediately apparent to Mr. Peli that this would be neither cool nor appealing in a film. He searched for an appropriate bed, finally settling on a carved wood piece, for either $1,400 or $1,600. He also realized that the wall-to-wall carpeting throughout the house would have to go.

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Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times
ART AND LIFE Toni Taylor, above, and Oren Peli, top, split up before the release of “Paranormal Activity,” a film based on strange noises and unexplained experiences they had at home, particularly in the bedroom.
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Trailer: 'Paranormal Activity'
“It made the house look really bad — like an apartment, not like a house, ” he says. He paused, concerned about giving away too much of the plot.

Generalize, he is directed.

“Hardwood floors are easier to slide things or people on,” he says. “And there are sounds. Footsteps on hardwood definitely sound more menacing than on carpet.”

The hardwood floors cost between $25,000 and $30,000, Mr. Peli says; he also spent $7,000 to replace the wall along the stairs with a banister.

Mr. Peli and Ms. Taylor broke up in 2007, soon after the film, in which Ms. Taylor is credited as a producer, made its debut at the Screamfest Festival in Los Angeles. They remain friends, and Ms. Taylor has attended several screenings.

When she moved out, the strange sounds stopped, Mr. Peli says, but says Ms. Taylor still hears them. And so, after seeing Mr. Peli, it was time to talk to Ms. Taylor, who lives a half-hour away.

Ms. Taylor, who is blond with an air of soft and wounded vulnerability, is renting the back half of a modern home in a wooded grove. The one-bedroom apartment, with a vaulted ceiling and a large, elaborate tub that juts into a garden, has a dreamier and far more interesting vibe than Mr. Peli’s house.

It once belonged to a film producer and his girlfriend, a Las Vegas showgirl, Ms. Taylor says. She also says she believes her landlady’s mother died there; her landlady insisted on having a psychic do a cleansing ceremony.

Ms. Taylor herself seems psychically jumpy. When a soap dish falls from the bathroom wall shortly after a reporter arrives, she finds it significant. That’s weird, she says. Why would that happen now?

There has been a major loss in her life recently — a very close friend named Brian died in May after minor surgery. While Mr. Peli is the new talent everyone wants to meet, Ms. Taylor is in a place of mourning.

Their breakup seems to be a tender subject, but Ms. Taylor speaks fondly of their first date, in a more carefree time.

“He rolled up in a little red Miata, wearing a leather jacket. He tells me, ‘The only thing I worry about is am I going to drive with the top down or am I going to the Jacuzzi?’ ” she says. “I worry about everything.”

Is she still in love with him?

Who wouldn’t love Oren, Ms. Taylor says. He is so decent and smart.

But to the subjects at hand, ghosts and spirits. Ms. Taylor confirms that she does not believe in them, but she did feel as if someone was whispering into her ear when she moved into the house in which “Paranormal Activity” was filmed. It wasn’t as it was in the film, where the woman’s hair blows across her face whenever a spirit is near, but Ms. Taylor says that she could certainly feel something on her face. And in her new place, she says, there have been many more strange occurrences.

Her friend Brian would sometimes spend the night, she says, and on the four-month anniversary of his death, she came home to find the sheets on his side of the bed pulled down. Also, towels had been rumpled, and she never leaves towels rumpled. And a gift from Brian, a Smashing Pumpkins CD box that she had placed in a drawer, had been moved to a shelf beside a card he had given her.

On another occasion, she had seen the hem of the curtain on the garden door suspended in the air as if someone were holding it.

That could have been air from the bottom of the window, no?

“No way,” Ms. Taylor says. “Wind is fluffy. This just kept it up there.”

The talk turns to friends and loss. Grief can confuse the mind, the reporter suggests. You can forget something as simple as the person you were standing next to at a funeral. Isn’t it possible that one might have, uncharacteristically, mussed some towels and forgotten to straighten them, or removed a gift from a drawer and put it on a shelf?

“It’s a nice explanation,” Ms. Taylor says. “But that box was definitely in a drawer, no place else. And when I came home, it was out.”

There is more talk of the death of friends, of the pain of never having had the chance to say goodbye. Then the reporter, finally out of words, departs, leaving Ms. Taylor with the saddest of specters, the ghost of a friend that never goes away.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Paranormal Activity - Movie Review

“Paranormal Activity” is a crudely made, half-clever little frightener that has become something of a pop-culture sensation and most certainly the movie marketing story of the year. Midnight showings in college towns and then in big cities, announced through minimal, viral publicity, have generated frenzied word of mouth and long lines at the box office.

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And now, to capitalize on this success, Paramount is giving the movie, written and directed by Oren Peli on a minuscule budget of $10,000, a full commercial release. Starting today, you can see it during daylight or dinner hours. It won’t be the same, though. At the midnight screening I attended last weekend, by far the most entertaining thing about the movie was the audience.

“Oh no. Oh hell no.” That was a stocky gentleman in the row behind me, whimpering as a door swung open on-screen. There was a lot of screaming later on — when, for example, the same door slammed shut — and also laughter, both anxious and mirthful. There was, above all, the sense of a communal, half-clandestine good time that is all too rare in an age of corporate entertainment. I was on the job, and also chaperoning a teenager, but I felt as if I’d snuck out of the house and broken curfew.

By any serious critical standard, “Paranormal Activity” is not a very good movie. It looks and sounds terrible. Its plot is thin and perforated with illogic. The acting occasionally rises to the level of adequacy. But it does have an ingenious, if not terribly original, formal conceit — that everything on-screen is real-life amateur video — that is executed with enough skill to make you jump and shriek. There is no lingering dread. You are not likely to be troubled by the significance of this ghost story or tantalized by its mysteries. It’s more like a trip to the local haunted house, where even the fake blood and the tape-loop of howling wind you have encountered 100 times before can momentarily freak you out.

The film starts abruptly and never leaves the nondescript house in San Diego where a young couple is dealing with an unusual problem. It seems that Katie (Katie Featherston) has been troubled by intimations of a supernatural presence, which her boyfriend, Micah (Micah Sloat), has decided to capture on video. He rigs up a camera in their bedroom, which starts to pick up things that go bump in the night.

During the day, he and Katie argue about what to do, and their quarrels occasioned some interesting relationship advice from members of the audience. Half expressed the strong conviction that Micah should get as far away from that crazy shrew as possible, while the other half thought she should throw that idiot and his camera out of the house. Instead of seeing a couples therapist, they briefly consult a psychic (Mark Fredrichs), who can’t really help other than to provide the movie with a flimsy pretext for keeping poor Katie and Micah at home.

Further plot summary is beside the point. Weird stuff continues to happen, and Mr. Peli shows a measure of ingenuity in producing scares out of the simplest imaginable effects. You see no monsters, very little blood and nothing you don’t anticipate, and yet it all has some impact. A number of horror movies, from “Blair Witch” to “Diary of the Dead” to “Cloverfield,” have used make-believe amateur footage, but “Paranormal Activity” does so in a way that is rigorously sloppy, almost convincing you that this is a poor doofus’s record of his girlfriend’s harassment by a demon.

But the suspension of disbelief ultimately depends on the late-night crowd. In a sparsely attended theater, or at home on DVD, the creakiness of the film would be much more glaring, and its lack of subtext and visual polish would mute its modest, fleeting pleasures. It works best when it comes out of nowhere, because that’s, in the end, where it goes.

“Paranormal Activity” is rated R. People tend to swear a lot when scary stuff happens.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Paranormal Activity

After a young, middle class couple moves into what seems like a typical suburban “starter” tract house, they become increasingly disturbed by a presence that may or may not be somehow demonic but is certainly most active in the middle of the night. Especially when they sleep. Or try to.