In case you’ve been immune to its word-of-mouth hype, the movie’s about a couple haunted in their San Diego home by an unseen entity. At the start of the movie, they decide to record their lives with home cameras to try and capture some proof of the phenomena they experience. The result is a Blair Witch-style “found footage” kind of movie, where most of the scares come from off-screen noises and tense atmosphere.
To me, Paranormal Activity is doing everything exactly as it should to steal Saw’s Halloween-movie crown. Before Saw became an institution, it was a little indie genre movie with a small budget ($1.2 million) and no stars to hang on a marquee (sorry, Cary Elwes, I love you but you’re not box office). Paranormal Activity has the same blueprint, only more extreme. Its budget was a miniscule $15,000, and it has only four characters and zero recognizable faces. When Saw first came out, people responded to the fact that it was a new entry into the horror genre that came from outside the normal Hollywood studio channels, and now they’re doing the same for Paranormal Activity.
Even better is the way that Paranormal Activity is slowly creeping into theaters nationwide. At first, there were only a few select screenings in college towns. Those lucky attendees left theaters and immediately started chatting about how scary the film was. Then, the film did something strange: It set up a system where if audiences wanted the movie to come to their hometown, they’d have to go to the Web site and “demand” it. (Basically, you filled out a form with your name, age, and hometown.) Producers promised that if it hit 1,000,000 demands overall, Paramount would give the movie a nationwide release. That demand system changed the entire conversation about the movie. People stopped calling it a cool little indie movie that would hopefully find and audience, and started talking about how many people across the country were demanding it (and how chilling the people who’d seen it thought it was). Midnight shows in the towns that “demanded” the movie sold out, garnering more buzz, and it got its million hits to get the nationwide release.
The only danger to promoting the movie this way is the possibility for overhype/backlash. But I saw it this weekend and, while some of the “scariest movie I’ve ever seen” comments are a little hyperbolic, I had a great time at the theater. (And, when I went home, I was sure glad that I was awake and hanging out with friends when a bulletin board fell off my apartment wall. Had I been alone in bed, I would’ve sworn the racket came from something more sinister, and I would’ve totally done the close-my-eyes-tight-to-make-monsters-go-away thing.) What makes it even better is that I saw it around Halloween, when it gets dark early and I’m in the mood to be scared. More horror films should get the courage to do this and go up against Saw, too.
Visit the Web site for Paranormal Activity.
(A tip: The trailer for the movie shows a little too much. It’s better if you go in cold.)