‘Paranormal Activity’ (2009) – 10 Years Later: Look Back On The Film That Started it All

The original Paranormal Activity is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its wide theatrical release on the 16th of October, 2009. After making the rounds on the indie film festival circuit, Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli (Insidious 2011) had a sure-fire gem on his hands and Paramount Pictures were taking notice.

With a couple of tweaks to the script, a limited opening and a brilliant marketing campaign, Paranormal Activity became a powerhouse film that year that spread like wildfire on the lips and internet clicks of genre fans and casual moviegoers alike.

So, let’s take a look back at the found footage docuhorror that became the most profitable independent film of all time.

Katie and Micah beginning their investigation

Synopsis

After a young, middle class couple moves into a 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.

Retrospective

Before Paranormal Activity hit the scene, found footage films were few and far between. Some more notable examples are the go-to films when discussing this film technique, such as Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and The Blair Witch Project (1999), which are responsible for introducing the world at large to this rarely used form of storytelling.

If The Blair Witch Project was the match that lit the fire, Paranormal Activity was the can of gasoline lighting the film world ablaze with countless sequels, parodies, and copycats all looking to recreate the magic of a low budget indie horror flick made on a $15,000 budget which ended up grossing almost $200,000,000 worldwide.

Everyone in the industry, from the fledgling filmmaker to Hollywood powerhouses, was about to saturate screen big and small with found footage films, looking for their piece of the pie. Some great pictures enjoying successful franchises of their own followed in the footsteps of that initial wave of releases, such as REC (2007), and Bad Robot’s entry into the foray, Cloverfield (2008), although none were able to hit the high watermark set by Paranormal Activity. The little haunted house movie that could.      

Night vision makes its debut in the ghost hunting world

Growing up, I was always fascinated with haunted houses, but the one thing that stuck to me out was the way Hollywood generally portrayed them on film. At that time, bigger was better, and everyone was trying to top each other.

The ’80s threw down some instant classics like Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) and Spielberg and Hooper’s Poltergeist (1982). While the beginning of the decade brought some greats to the table, the close of the ’90s would serve up some equally memorable additions for the contemporary audience of the time. 1999 saw The Haunting and House on Haunted Hill breathe new life into some forgotten hits with a modern take and some Hollywood scrubbing.

If the film industry had a clear direction for haunted house films, Thir13en Ghosts (2001) was its new tent pole. The old adage of “go big or go home” was being pushed to the limits. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved each of these movies and continue to re-watch them religiously. There was just that nagging disconnect between the subtlety of paranormal episodes of TV series like Unsolved Mysteries or Sightings and the raging Hollywood experience where the house usually destroys itself in the end.

Paranormal Activity had the right quality to reality balance to make it feel genuine, without resorting to someone just shaking a camera too much. It was the quiet building of tension which slowly escalated but wasn’t a slow burn. Paranormal Activity stuck to the pages of books about real ghost sightings, and how people at that time knew how to capture that evidence. This was a pre-Ghost Adventures world, and almost nobody had ever heard of a spirit box.

Paranormal Activity capitalized on the previous way that haunted houses were portrayed for so many years, and, as a result, it tapped into the fear that could be generated just by replacing the grand payout our psyches were so conditioned to expect with a nuanced swing of a chandelier.

Micah becomes a target

Finial Thoughts

Paranormal Activity was so many things, but at its core, it was a story about the interaction between a loving couple whose relationship is tested to the extreme by an external force. For this reason, it was one of the great date movies of its time. For this look back, I had a fun time watching it with my girlfriend, who had not yet seen it. I got a fresh look at how a first-time viewer reacted to its teetering between Is This Or Isn’t This Real?

From its successful marketing campaign telling viewers of its previews to get them to demand that their cinemas show it, to actually showing test audiences jumping with fear while in the theater watching the movie (John Landis’ son, Max Landis, can actually be seen in the audience in one of those promos), Paranormal Activity was an innovative and inspiring addition to cinematic history. It proved that, once again, the horror genre is the place to be when trying out new forms of storytelling while remaining creatively free and in control of your own vision.

If it’s been a while since your last viewing, or, like my girlfriend, who had yet to get around to it, I highly recommend checking it out! Stay scary, horror fans!

About Chris Prevost

From the second I knew how to speak, I knew I wanted to write. Every time I touched someone with my words I knew if it was in print I would reach those who would listen. Writer / Film Critic / Contributer at PopHorror.com, Site Manager / Podcaster / Contributer at Minds of the Morbid Podcast, Administrator for All Things Horror Facebook group, Administrator at Horror Haus of Sinistry Facebook Group. Writer / Film Critic / Contributer at filmquirk.com

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