After experiencing what they think are a series of "break-ins", a family sets up security cameras around their home, only to realize that the events unfolding before them are more sinister than they seem.
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.Written by
During the weekend of October 9-11, 2009 it reached #4 at the US box office while playing in only 160 theaters, the fewest number of theaters for a top five film since box office data was regularly tracked in the 1980s. See more »
The security system is set every night, yet Katie goes outside and sits on the swing without setting off the alarm. See more »
Is that what I think it is?
Depends on what you think it is.
I think it's a big-ass camera! Whatever happened to one of those little hand held cameras?
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Epilogue text reads: "Micah's body was discovered by police on October 11, 2006. Katie's whereabouts remain unknown." See more »
The version that was released in theaters is the cut supervised by Steven Spielberg. The Director's Cut, comprised of the unedited film with three possible endings, has several differences:
1. There is a scene in the Theatrical Cut not present in the Director's Cut that takes place early on, where Katie and Micah wake up and find her keys thrown from the kitchen counter to the floor.
2. The low frequency tone that occurs when the demon is present is not quite as loud in the Director's cut. There is only one instance of the demon whispering in the Theatrical Cut; there are at least three in the Director's Cut, all of which are heard in the bedroom at night.
3. A lot of the demon noises - the loud growl followed by the bang, the footsteps, even the shadows that appear on the bedroom doors - were completely re-dubbed and retouched. All of these scenes are much, much louder/noticeable in theaters for jump scares. There seem to be at least two added "shadow" effects - another on the bedroom door, and a silhouette in the hallway - in the Director's Cut, whereas the Theatrical Cut only has one shadow used.
4. The night when the demon plays the door games with Katie and Micah (opening and slamming it shut, knocking furiously) has been re-dubbed, as well. The knocking is much faster and louder in the Theatrical Cut.
5. There's some added dialogue between Katie and Micah where they discuss how the stress is negatively affecting their lives. She says she's failing her university course and won't pass unless she "does something drastic" on her midterm. He says he lost a large sum of money playing the stock market earlier, and that he'll be taking a break for awhile.
6. The demon's daytime attack is completely absent. The only time we get a good look at the picture that is smashed and clawed is when the two run up and down the hallway during the night to get away from the demon.
7. There's an extra video attached to the "Goodbye Dianne" explanation at the computer. There is at least two minutes of added footage of the woman's ordeal, which has been heavily used in the TV commercials. Micah shows Katie footage of Dianne's demonic possession and subsequent exorcism as she is tied to a bed. Her appearance transforms from healthy to disheveled and dark, with large cuts on her face and body. Eventually, the footage shows that the exorcism was unsuccessful, and the possessed Dianne becomes so destructive that she chews her own arm off to the elbow.
8. The double-layered voice Katie projects in bed when she says, "Everything will be fine from now on" (and later screaming downstairs) uses a different effect to achieve this. Unlike the Theatrical Cut, the two voices are very distinct.
9. The ending is completely changed. Katie awakes shortly after midnight on the final night, gets out of bed and stares at Micah for roughly three hours. Unlike the Theatrical Cut, she does not move to his side of the bed to continue watching him, and the sheets do not fly off of his body. Instead, she goes straight downstairs. After Micah is awakened by the scream, he runs downstairs and we hear the ensuing scuffle. Like before, Katie slowly climbs the stairs, except the footstep effect is slightly altered and when she enters the room, she is holding a knife and covered in blood. Micah's body is not thrown at the camera; he remains downstairs. Katie sits down on the floor against the bed and proceeds to rock back and forth, knife in hand, for several days. We hear her ignore phone calls and the door bell. Eventually, one of her friends comes in to check on her and finds Micah's body, which momentarily interrupts Katie's rocking. The friend lets out a scream and runs out of the house. Twenty minutes later, we hear the police knock and enter, warning anyone in the house to "make themselves known" because they have their weapons drawn. As they search the first floor, it appears as if the demon has left Katie's body: we see the light to the attic turn on, then off, as if the demon went back into hiding. The police come upstairs, find Katie and warn her to drop the weapon. She's dazed, running toward them yelling, "Where's Micah!? Where's Micah?!". The door to the attic slams shut, startling the police so much that one accidentally shoots Katie dead. The final sixty seconds of the film shows the confused policemen, asking "Where did that [noise] come from?" and ultimately declaring the house "clear". The film fades to black, and a text appears that dedicates the film to Katie and Micah.
I was fortunate to see this film about a year ago, and have become curious as to why it still has not seen the light of day. A little research has indicated it still might.
The storytelling here is simple but also inspired. Young couple Katie and Micah plan to film their home at night while sleeping in hopes of capturing evidence of a ghost that seems to haunting them, or more precisely Katie, since this is not the first time she has experienced these type of visitations. We watch the footage of the young couple sleeping and gradually things do start to happen. Katie and Micah also film themselves discussing the situation, a visit from a spiritualist, and a few other random moments. Doesn't sound like much, right? Or that it could possibly be the slightest bit scary. Well, Oren Peli's little indie film is everything a scary movie should be. In other words, it is indeed very scary.
Peli accomplishes the improbable through utilizing tension, character and imagination. The found footage concept used in the movie, a la "Blair Witch", "Cloverfield" and the recent "Quarantine", is perhaps slightly more effective in this situation. It's usually a still camera with things sometimes occurring just beyond what we can see. The result is a heightened sense of reality and a greater sense of dread as to what those sounds could be. We've all been there. We here a noise out in the dark and are frightened by the unknown. Peli seems to understand this greatly and uses it to great effect. When the camera does move it is often done slowly, perhaps in an effort to avoid the shaky-cam effect, but it also helps create greater tension.
But perhaps the one element most important to this film's success is the performance by Katie Featherston. In the beginning we meet a sweet young woman who has concerns about what could be happening to her. Perhaps a metaphor for fears regarding her relationship with Micah and their new home. As we approach the final scenes, Katie has been reduced to a person on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and we are deeply concerned for her well being. Each night as our young couple goes off to sleep we experience a deeper and greater dread that something bad is going to happen, and we don't like it. It helps that Ms. Featherston is an unknown (it's difficult to imagine caring this way about a recognizable actor) but her ability to create a believable and sympathetic character is remarkable and turns an effective thriller into something extraordinary.
It's not often that a movie will truly have me on the edge of my seat. Watching it I was reminded of those days long ago when I first saw "The Exorcist", "Halloween" and "Alien"; movies that have stayed with me over time as moments spent in a theatre genuinely frightened. It doesn't happen that often anymore, movies are either too gimmicky or too unbelievable or too music video flashy to get to me. But a little movie made with no money and no special effects did. To the cast and crew of "Paranormal Activity" - Thank you!
p.s. with regards to the future of this movie, the latest news is that it will be released and not remade as earlier planned. No idea when that will happen, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this special little film doesn't get left on a shelf.
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