Paranormal Activity is a 2007 American supernatural horror film written, co-produced, photographed, edited, and directed by Oren Peli. It is the first (chronologically, the third) entry into the Paranormal Activity film series. The film centers on a young couple, Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) are haunted by a supernatural presence in their home. It is presented in the style of "found footage", from cameras set up by the couple in an attempt to document what is haunting them. The film sets up found-footage conventions that were mirrored in the later films of the series.
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.
A parallel sequel and prequel Paranormal Activity 2, was released on October 22, 2010. The success of the first two films would spawn additional films in the series: the prequel Paranormal Activity 3, released on October 21, 2011, and sequel to the second installment, Paranormal Activity 4, released on October 19, 2012, a spin-off titled Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones released on January 3, 2014 and the fifth and final installment Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension released on October 23, 2015.
In 2006, Katie (played by Katie Featherston) and her boyfriend, Micah (Micah Sloat), are a young couple who recently moved into a two-story tract house in suburban San Diego, California. Katie claims that a ghostly presence has haunted her since childhood and believes that it has followed her to their new home. Each night, Micah mounts a video camera on a tripod in their bedroom to record any paranormal activity that might occur while they sleep, in the hopes of solving the problem himself. The first night, the only thing they catch are footstep noises. Katie hires a psychic, Dr. Fredrichs (Mark Fredrichs), who assesses that she is being haunted not by a ghost, but by a demon. He says the demon feeds off negative energy, and its intent is to haunt and torment Katie no matter where she goes. He advises them not to taunt or communicate with the demon, and to contact demonologist Dr. Johann Averies for help. Though Katie seems interested and engaged in the situation, Micah does not take it seriously.
The camera captures several supernatural phenomena which remain minor at first, such as the bedroom door moving by itself during night 3. During night 5 however, Katie wakes up from a nightmare and it is revealed that something was whispering to her in her sleep. Micah begins to taunt the demon and the phenomena worsens. During night 13, they are awoken by an otherworldly screech and a loud thud. They go downstairs to investigate and find the chandelier moving by itself. On night 15, Katie awakens and spends several hours standing by the bed staring at Micah while he sleeps, before going outside to sit on the backyard swing. Micah awakens and tries to convince her to come inside but she refuses, her voice dreamlike and detached. When Micah goes inside to get her a blanket, he finds the TV turned on in the bedroom, and is then startled by Katie, who followed him inside but says that he woke her up. Katie remembers nothing the next day.
Katie, already irritated by Micah's flippant response to the situation, becomes irate when Micah brings home a Ouija board despite Dr. Fredrichs' warnings. The two go out of the house that evening, leaving the Ouija board in the living room. The curtains and plants start to blow around and the Ouija board's planchette moves on its own. A small fire erupts on the board, but it extinguishes itself before they get home. It seems that the board has left them an unrecognizable and unreadable message. On night 17, Micah sprinkles talcum powder in the hallway and when the couple is awoken by noises, they find non-human footprints leading to the bedroom from the attic. In the attic, Micah finds a burnt photograph of a young Katie, which was previously thought to have been destroyed in an unexplained house fire.
The next night, a light turns on and off and the bedroom door slams shut. Loud banging is heard, as something is apparently trying to get in. They discover that the glass over a photo of them has been smashed, with Micah's image scratched. Dr. Averies is abroad when Micah finally agrees to invite him, so Dr. Fredrichs comes instead. Upon his arrival, Dr. Fredrichs immediately has a sense of dread. He apologetically leaves despite their pleas for his help, stating that his presence is only making the demon angry. On night 19, a shadow moves across the bedroom door. The paranormal activity starts to become physical; Katie is pulled out of the bedroom by an invisible force during night 20. Stressed and exhausted, the couple decide to go to a hotel. Micah finds Katie gripping a cross so tightly that it bloodies her palm. Micah, angry at a situation he cannot control, burns the cross and the picture found in the attic. Just as he is set to leave, a suddenly apathetic, languid Katie insists that they will be okay now, her voice flat.
On night 21, Katie awakens to once again stand and stare at Micah while he sleeps. She walks out of the darkness, holding a large bloody kitchen knife, her shirt bloodied. She sits beside the bed, holding the knife and rocking herself, until about 2 p.m. the next day, when her friend Amber calls and leaves a message expressing her concern. At about 9:20 p.m. that night, Katie is still sitting and rocking by the bed, and Amber can be heard entering the house. During this short period, Katie stops rocking and after Amber sees Micah's body, she runs out of the house and Katie resumes rocking. Half an hour later, just after 9:50 p.m., police enter the home and discover Micah's body as well. As they are checking Micah for vital signs, a light turns on in the bedroom down the hallway, but before the police see it, the light turns off again. They discover Katie, still sitting beside the bed with the knife. As they call to her, she wakes from her catatonic state and seems confused. As she approaches them, knife in hand, calling Micah, they ask her to drop the weapon. Suddenly the bedroom door behind the police officers slams shut, startling them and causing them to shoot Katie, who collapses on the floor. The police then call dispatch and check the bedroom at the end of the hall, but find nothing. They discover the video camera, still running. An epilogue text states that Micah's body was discovered by police on October 11, 2006, and Katie's whereabouts remain unknown.
Once Paramount acquired the film, two alternate endings were developed for it, with one of them eventually being used in the theatrical version. The original ending for the film was available for a time for viewing on the Internet before Paramount exerted a claim of copyright on the material.
In one of them, seen in the theatrical version of the film, after Katie comes out of bed, she stands beside it staring at Micah for approximately two hours and then walks downstairs. After a moment of silence, Katie screams Micah's name, waking Micah who rushes to her. The camera records Katie screaming incessantly, while Micah tries to talk to her when he suddenly lets out a cry of pain. Katie's screaming stops and a brief silence is followed by the sound of heavy footsteps coming up the stairs. After another brief silence, Micah's body is violently hurled at the camera, knocking it over sideways and revealing Katie standing in the doorway. She then slowly walks into the room, her clothing soaked with blood. Crouching over his body, she sniffs Micah (who has evidently been murdered) and then slowly looks up at the camera with a sly smile. As she lunges toward the camera, her face takes on a demonic appearance just as the scene cuts to black. An epilogue text states that Micah's body was discovered by the police on October 11, 2006, and that Katie's whereabouts remain unknown.
The second alternate ending was shown at only one public viewing and was later offered as an alternate ending on the DVD and Blu-ray releases of the film. In this ending, Katie gets out of bed and stands staring at Micah, as she did in the original ending, except she does not move to Micah's side of the bed. About three hours pass, then she finally goes downstairs. She lets out a blood-curdling scream, which wakes Micah up and he runs downstairs. The screaming continues, and the sounds of a struggle are heard before the noises abruptly stop. There is silence for a short while before loud footsteps are heard on the stairs. Katie then walks into the bedroom, blood covering her shirt, with a bloody knife in her hand. She closes and locks the bedroom door, then walks up to the camera, standing idle briefly. She then takes the knife and slits her own throat, then falls to the floor.
- Katie Featherston as Katie
- Micah Sloat as Micah
- Mark Fredrichs as Dr. Fredrichs (Psychic)
- Amber Armstrong as Amber
First-time director Oren Peli had been afraid of ghosts his entire life, even fearing the comedy film Ghostbusters, but intended to channel that fear into something positive and productive. Peli took a year to prepare his own house for shooting, going so far as to repaint the walls, add furniture, put in a carpet, and build a stairwell. In this time, he also did extensive research into paranormal phenomena and demonology, stating, "We wanted to be as truthful as we could be." The reason for making the supernatural entity in the story a demon was a result of the research pointing to the most malevolent and violent entities being "demons". The phenomena in the film take place largely at night—the vulnerability of being asleep, Peli reasoned, taps into a human being's most primal fear, stating, "If something is lurking in your home there's not much you can do about it."
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" 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 recalled, 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.
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 international rights to any sequels, for $350,000 USD. When the film was taken in by Paramount Pictures, 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.
On September 25, 2009, the movie opened in 13 college towns across the United States. On his website, director Oren Peli invited internet users to "demand" where the film went next by voting on eventful.com. This was the first time a major motion picture studio used the service to virally market a film. Twelve of the 13 venues sold out. On September 28, Paramount issued a press release on Peli's website, announcing openings in 20 other markets on Friday, October 2, including large-market cities such as New York and Chicago.
On October 3, it was reported that a total of 33 screenings in all 20 markets sold out and that the movie had made $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 got 1,000,000 "demands" on eventful.com. The full limited release of the film started on Friday, October 9. On October 10 the Eventful.com counter hit over 1,000,000 requests. Paramount announced soon after that the film would get a wide domestic release on Friday, October 16 and then expand to more theaters on the 23rd. By November, it was showing in locales worldwide.
Paranormal Activity was released on DVD and Blu-ray on December 29, 2009. The home release media includes an alternate ending to the theatrical version, in which Katie slits her own throat in front of the camera, then collapses to the floor. It was released in the UK on March 22, 2010 on DVD and Blu-ray with some specials.
The DVD and Blu-ray was released in Australia on April 2, 2010. In March 2010, a limited VHS edition was released in the United States and the Netherlands. This was accomplished after a petition on the website, WeWantVHS.com.
Additionally, at the end of the credits, 15 minutes worth of names were added to the DVD release as part of a special promo where the fans who "demanded" the movie were asked by email if they wanted to have their name appear as a thank you for the movie's success.
The film received positive critical reception upon release. Based on 184 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an overall approval 'certified fresh' rating from critics of 82%. Movie 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 noted 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, David Stratton of the Australian version of At the Movies remarked that "it was extremely unthrilling, very obvious, very cliched. We've seen it all before."
The film opened on September 25, 2009, to 12 theaters taking $36,146 on its opening day and $77,873 on its first weekend for an average of $6,489 per venue. It took 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, which was $800,000 more than originally estimated. Over the weekend, the film reached the week's highest per-theater average of $49,379, coming in at #4 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 #1, beating out the expected number one box office victor 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.
Using unique social media strategy for both the first and subsequent films, Paranormal Activity was one of the first film franchises of its kind to use social media to make the connection with filmgoers.
The film was nominated for "best first feature" in the Independent Spirit Awards 2009.
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