The Paranormal Activity Film

The Paranormal Activity Film

The $15,000 film Paranormal Activity has grossed $61.6 million in its first month.  It scores 85% on, it gets two thumbs up from Roger Ebert and whoever works with him these days, and it is rivalling Blair Witch Project within its genre.

Some wit noted that Paranormal Activity holds the most terror for the F/X specialists who charge tens of millions to make movies that are nowhere near as scary as this one is. 

But Paranormal is plenty scary enough.  The word is that Hollywood planned to remake the movie, big-budget, but changed its mind when test audiences had 20% of their subjects walking out of the theaters.  At first, execs figured the walkouts were due to the home-made quality of the picture on screen.  Then, they realized that people were walking out because ... they could not withstand the intensity of the movie.  For jaded 21st-century American moviegoers, that boggles the imagination.

My 19-year-old daughter went with an 18-year-old girlfriend, which friend sits and laughs at the Saw and Final Destination movies and their ilk.  But just a half hour in, the 18-year-old was begging to leave.


Paranormal is a remarkably high-quality movie for its budget, not least of all because it has two likeable, and believable, character-victims.  Think Jim Halpert and Pam Beasley from The Office and you'll have a pretty good triangulation on the personalities of the twenty-something snackables.

Like Jim Cameron says, if you get people caring what happens to two people on the boat, they'll start caring about the boat itself.  This home-made movie gets us caring about the couple, before the mayhem begins.


I believe that Paranormal taps in to two basic fears, one of which is our latent dread of being defenseless while asleep.  Paranormal jumps on this theme and doesn't let up the whole way through, which is one chord that gives the movie its jackhammer impact.


Paranormal has no gore at all.  It does not cheaply shock its way into your attention span; most horror movies have to rely on revulsion, profanity, skin, or all three to get your blood pumping.  Paranormal needs absolutely none.  Something is striking a very primal part of our brains here.

The second brain filament that the movie taps into, is our collective human conviction that there is such a thing as demons.  You are not going to get people walking out of scary movies about leprechauns, no matter what you do, especially if you can't use the tomato ketchup to bail you out.  You're not going to build terror-suspense around snipes, or Chucky dolls, or tooth fairies.


As the nominal lead author at Spirituality in the 21st Century :- ) yours truly has probably studied demons more than the next movie-reviewer wannabe.  I don't personally believe that they possess people in modern days, but I am not typical in the fact that I rule it completely out.

Whether secular or spiritual, you probably value Jesus' statements on demons more highly than you value Peter Hurkos' or David Copperfield's.  Jesus said this:

Mat 12:43  When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.
Mat 12:44  Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.
Mat 12:45  Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.

Jesus' view of demons is echo'ed by the makers of Paranormal Activity. The pivot point of the movie comes when a visiting psychic warns them: the demon is making headway into your lives, exactly to the extent that you give it negativity to feed from.   This is what gives the movie its resonance, the barely-suppressed fear that we might be enabling the assault.  Sommmmebody STOP meh!

Paranormal's warning is a modern variant of the millenia-old warning that many have considered a warning from On High, and others have considered intuitively obvious -- if we want make ourselves vulnerable to demonic influence, it's our choice.

The heroine senses this herself -- when her boyfriend thinks it would be cool to buy a Ouija board and talk to the entity, she fights tooth-and-nail to keep the board out of the house.  Don't you know that's an engraved invitation?, she pleads. 

I liked Roger Ebert's point:  here's a guy who won't stop and ask a gas-station attendant for directions, and here's a guy more determined to get the episode on film than on sympathizing with his girl.  By the end of the movie, you're half-rooting for the sap to come out third in the love triangle.

Paranormal Activity did $21.1M last weekend.  What's $61.1M divided by $0.015M?