Reel Scares or Real Phenomena?
“Real” or just reel-to-reel? That’s the question on everyone’s minds when they sit down to watch a horror movie like Paranormal Activity.
The brains behind the boos is Israeli film director and producer Oren Peli, who, funny enough, is actually quite spooked by ghost stories himself. Paranormal Activity, much like other horror films, taps into genuine human anxieties and myths about the supernatural, even though it isn’t real.
Nonetheless, the mockumentary (found footage) style has led viewers to question its realness, much like what occurred with the famous “Blair Witch Project”.
What made the film feel, so real was its rejection of the usual movie fluff. There are no opening credits and no closing roll; it just dives straight into terror. It starts by thanking “the families of Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston” and the end leaves you with a “current whereabouts unknown” title card, enough to give anyone goosebumps.
Everything you see is supposedly filmed by Micah, one of the main characters. The camera never lies, they say, but here you can’t tell where reality starts and fiction ends. Each scene feels so real that you start to think the paranormal happenings might be too.
That’s the real genius of this film!
But, sorry to break it to you, Paranormal Activity is not real. However, there could be some truth behind it…
The Making of the Movie
The Blair Witch Project may have laid the groundwork for “found-footage” horror, but Paranormal Activity certainly didn’t feel like a Hollywood movie. It felt, well… real.
Peli was all about making things believable. Rather than splashing the screen with action and gore, he opted for a more genuine touch – using a home video camera on a tripod and ditching the typical camera crew. Plus, there wasn’t even a script; the actors got a storyline and then improvised.
Made on a tiny budget of just $15,000, this DIY approach to filming really amped up the realism, making us feel like part of the storyline.
A short filming process
Imagine filming a movie in just a week! It seems pretty impossible, but that’s exactly what Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat did, practically living on set, which was actually Peli’s own home.
By day, the film’s young couple would improvise in front of the camera, and when night came, the real spooky filming began. Not only did the night filming add to the genuine, spook factor, but it was also convenient. According to Peli, covering all the windows during the day to create a nighttime scene was cumbersome. Plus, nighttime is prime ghost time.
Despite the rush, Peli’s detailed prep meant stunts – like Katie getting yanked out of bed by some invisible supernatural presence – went smoothly.
After the first week of intense shooting, Peli would keep calling back the two actors. They’d watch the footage, figure out what wasn’t clicking, and go back to film the fixes.
This back-and-forth editing led to the genius addition of the time code. Initially, the time code was only meant for one scene where Katie is standing creepily by the bed for what seems like hours. But Peli decided to make it a recurring feature. It kept audiences on the edges of their seats, counting the minutes, waiting for the next scare.
The different endings
The film almost had a completely different finish, with three alternate endings.
Peli’s original finale would see a blood-soaked Katie, knife in hand, end up being shot by police officers after Micah’s murder. It spooked audiences once during the first release before Paramount decided to change it.
Under studio influence, two new endings were made. The theatrical version, nudged by Steven Spielberg’s input, had Katie hurling Micah into the camera and then lunging demonically at the audience.
Peli wasn’t too thrilled about this ending, saying “I kind of moaned the whole time we were shooting it. I was like, This is not consistent with the movie! We’re not about jump scares!”
The second ending, a home-release version, showed Katie ending her own life. Peli wanted the raw feel of his original ending, but the audience loved the new scares, so they stayed.
Is There Some Truth Behind ‘Paranormal Activity’?
What the professionals say
Besides its raw production and believable performances, Paranormal Activity nails the realism in supernatural experiences.
According to paranormal experts, the film accurately portrays poltergeist phenomena:
- Flickering lights? Check
- Spooky whispers? Check
- Unexplainable sounds? Check
Plus, it gives you a feeling of “Did my bedsheet just move, or am I losing it?”
The movie shows this negative energy getting worse over time, happening more to one person, and mostly at night. This is what experts say is true in real life.
Experts also praise the movie for its authentic use of ghost-hunting gear. The characters in the film use a camera to capture eerie evidence, similar to how real-life ghost hunters use different tools to capture potential paranormal evidence.
The psychology of “paranormal” experiences
Paranormal Activity feels real, even if it doesn’t show actual ghosts. Many supernatural occurrences occur at night when we’re sleepy because that’s when our minds might trick us into seeing or feeling things that aren’t there.
In real-world investigations, spirit activity is often just normal everyday occurrences. For example, if someone feels their bed move, it might just be their leg kicking out while they’re sleeping.
The movie shows this by having the scary things start small and normal. It makes you wonder: if there are really ghosts, why don’t ghosts do things that can’t be explained in any other way?
What’s terrifying about the movie is how it mirrors real-life reports of hauntings. The things that scare us the most are often the things we can’t explain.
Is Paranormal Activity based on a true story?
No, the film is not based on a true story, but did start from an eerily relatable place! Oren Peli had just moved into his new house and, like most people in a strange place, his imagination ran wild. Although Peli’s first instinct wasn’t that the house was haunted, it did lead him to the idea of what if someone did think their home was haunted.
When was Paranormal Activity released?
Paranormal Activity was originally shown at film festivals in 2007. However, after Paramount Pictures acquired it, the film had a limited release in the US on 6th September 2009 and was eventually released nationwide on October 16, 2009. Worldwide, the film received a total of $193 million.
Real-life spooky events aren’t like in the movies. They’re not always big scares, aliens attacking the White House, or a ghost being able to turn invisible just when you’re about to prove its existence. Instead, it’s the small weird things – anything that our rational brain’s ability would scoff at but our 3 A.M. brain might freak out over.
Paranormal Activity gets this right. It shows that the scariest things aren’t always monsters or ghosts, but not knowing if we’re seeing things or if something strange is actually happening.
So, is Paranormal Activity real? Not the film necessarily, but the accuracy of a haunting? It could very well be!