Israeli emigre Oren Peli's microbudget haunted house film Paranormal Activity is one scary movie. Thanks to producer Jason Blum, Paramount picked up the $11,000 movie after some re-cutting and has set a September 25 release. Paranormal Activity scared the bejeezus out of the crowds at last weekend's Telluride Film Festival. (It's five-review ranking on Rotten Tomatoes is 100% fresh.)
Paranormal Activity borrows admiringly from the Blair Witch playbook. Peli makes his picture as real as possible by casting unknowns who can improvise. He eschews gore, and scares audiences with homevideo verite style. And he builds suspense by not showing everything.
Peli faced a steep learning curve in mounting his first film. He arrived in the U.S. at age 19 and pursued a career as a videogame programmer. Terrified by The Exorcist as a 10-year-old, he studied graphics and animation but never film.
The idea for Paranormal Activity came when Peli and his wife moved into a new house in a San Diego suburb and were frightened by strange noises. Peli shot the film over one intense week with one high-def Sony SX1 camera -- in his own house. His two actors -- Katie Featherstone and Micah Sloat -- are so convincing as a young couple fighting a haunted house that some who see the movie insist they must be intimate in real life. Actor Sloat, who has a broadcasting background, manipulated the camera. The minimal f/x were mechanical (wire removal was the biggest post-production headache).
After shooting the film in a week, Peli took a year to fiddle with the cut on nights and weekends before sending it to Screamfest in 2007, where it won an award, and Slamdance in early 2008. Blum brought the movie to Paramount, which successfully boosted the film's advance buzz at Telluride.