When “Jaws” came out, it famously scared beachgoers everywhere out of the water. A similar fear emerged with “The Blair Witch Project” — camping became less about hiking and more about jumping after each creak in the woods. With the much-hyped “Paranormal Activity,” will we no longer be able to sleep in our own beds? Director Oren Peli seems to hope so.
The trailer for “Paranormal” contains hidden camera footage of horrified reactions from college students as they watch an advanced screening of the movie. Whether or not the emotions are authentic remains unknown, but in a recent interview with the Daily, Oren Peli pointed out that his film has received similar responses even from some celebrities.
“I heard that Steven Spielberg, when he watched the movie, he watched it at night so he got kind of scared by the movie and he stopped it, and continued watching it in the daylight,” he said.
When Spielberg turns off his set in fear, it must be testimony to something. With the motley ensemble of cheap scare tactics and unreasonable violence prevalent in contemporary horror movies, the genre rarely spits forth a work on par with classics like “The Exorcist” or “The Shining” anymore. If “Paranormal” is truly terrifying, it must differentiate itself from the pack that has become so blood thirsty in recent years. And it does so by focusing on the human element of the horror.
“The main thing that people respond to, in my opinion, is, first of all, just the overall realism of (the movie),” Peli said.
“Even people in the film industry … ask me, ‘these actors, are they actors or are they friends of yours, or are they a couple in real life?’ ” he continued. “A lot of people don’t even think they are actors. They aren’t even sure what’s going on, so they kind of drop their guard and go along for the ride.”
In addition to realistic acting, “Paranormal” is shot in a home-video style reminiscent of “Blair Witch.” The separating factor, however, is that while people can at least stay out of the woods to avoid any chance encounter with ghouls, “Paranormal” amps up the terror by bringing the supernatural into an unavoidable place: the bedroom.
“You can never avoid being asleep at your own home … what may be preying on you when you are sleeping, you may not even know,” Peli said.
Interestingly enough, the idea to shoot a horror movie with one home camera stems from a real experience in Peli’s life.
“When I moved to my house — the first house that I owned — (my wife and I) started hearing all sorts of weird noises during the night,” he said. “Some of it was probably the house settling; we definitely didn’t think there was a ghost in the house, but just the fact that there were strange things happening and I couldn’t explain them logically kind of got me thinking, ‘What if I had a video camera and then let it run, and then if something happened in the house it can capture it?’ ”
And while Peli never captured any evidence of ghosts that night, he at least captured what is surely an ingenious movie idea. Armed with $10,000, one movie camera and a group of no-name actors, Peli completed shooting of “Paranormal” in only seven days.
The best part is he isn’t even sure he believes in ghosts.
“Whether or not I believe it or not, I’m still scared of it — if that makes sense,” he admitted.
Of course it does. It isn’t going to matter if you think ghosts are real — “Paranormal Activities” will make you second guess yourself the next time you hear that thump in the night.