Sunday 25 April 2010

Horror Tip: Paranormal Activity

Name: Paranormal Activity
Type: Film
Link: Imdb Page
Paranormal Activity (PA) is like a mix of Blair Witch Project, The Haunting and The Exorcist. It follows a recent trend of first-person/documentary movies like Rec and Cloverfield that I really enjoy and which works great for horror flicks.

The entire movie takes place in a house where young couple, Micha and Katie, lives. After Micah finds out that is fiancée has some kind of poltergeist haunting her, he decides to put up a camera and get to the bottom of what is happen. The movie then slowly builds up tension, by showing of more and more evidence for the "poltergeist" and creating an increasingly threatening situation. This is classic ghost story telling and it works very well. I had some issues with annoying characters and such, but nothing I couldn't really put a side (after all, if I can suspend disbelief for ghost, etc I can handle some stupid characterizations). On a whole it is a solid and quite scary movie!

The most interesting thing about the movie, and the reason to bring it up, is because it features so familiar environments and situations. The house they live in is by no means a classic haunted house and most of the paranormal events are quite toned down. Yet, the filmmakers have managed to slowly and carefully build up dread to the situations and because of the familiarness of the events and locations, it really manages to get under your skin. My favorite part are the night scenes in which one just views the couple sleeping in a very ordinary looking bedroom. A low frequency sound is slowly built up and finally some strange event(s) occur. The simplicity in this setup is what really drives the movie home and makes it very easy to relate the events.

I wonder if this sense of the familiar and everyday life could be used in a videogame? Games like Silent Hill use familiar environments but there is always a layer of filth, and creepiness added so that, while making you feel frightened, also makes you more distant. When it comes to events happening in most horror videos games, it is even worse. Here there is very little (if anything at all!) that can be related to everyday life.

The reason is mostly that normal life has not so much fun gameplay in it, but I think this really bad when wanting players to connect the events experienced to things in their own life. I think this is something that needs to be more explored in videogame and while Amnesia (taking place in a spooky castle in the 18th century) does not do much in this regard, I hope to explore it more later on. Cause while I do not feel the fear, watching PA, like I have done playing horror games (like Silent Hill, etc), it sticks to me in a way no other game has. When I turn off a videogame, there is no uneasiness left in me, but after watching certain movies late at night, like Ringu and now PA, I feel that some of the fear, totally irrationally, still lingers inside me and makes me dread common place objects and surroundings.

I see no reason for movies (and books) to be alone with causing these feelings and think that if properly executed, games can do it too. Given that games are so good at evoking in-game fear, if this could be combined with a connection to real-life as well, then fictional horror could really be taken to the next level!


  1. The best tip for the folks that made PA can learn is the NEVER make another damn film again. Horrendously bad is every possible way.

  2. I saw this movie. Did not scare we one bit. And, I find it to be quite stupid. Nice job making a movie with low budget, but not my taste really.

    Dead little girls, that is what scares me in movies, nothing else. :/

  3. Thank you very much for the tip! This sounds indeed quite interesting, I think I'll watch the movie.

  4. I'm interested in hearing what you did not like about it! Horror movies as this one, that are very focused on limited concept, are often received quite differently by people. So more details are very appreciated!

  5. Interessting post

    when i watch Paranormal Activity, i was liking me too those moment, late at night, and hear this surprising, *monster-like roar* and then BOOM! and then evreyone are scrared and the women always, it's a very classic storyline. But this movie was too exaggerate, and has been drived out of reality, i mean how a ouija board can take on fire and left a message on the ouija board, the poltergeist? well, if it was a poltergeist, the "spirit" should not be in this house when she left the house.

    Allow me to introduce you my ghost theory (without getting any fire, please)

    btw:english is NOT MY LANGUAGE (mostly french (not from france)) hope you can still understand

    well first i have to tell the following theory will explain the paranormal phenomena
    in a totally scientific way.
    (and no youtube scary chair!)
    first let compare the human, and he's most advenced creation:the PC(or the mac for those who want)
    how work a PC:with a programing language
    where the programing language take he's information:in module or library (module for python, for those who want to know)

    now how work the human brain:with energy or electrecity signal (programing language)
    but what is the library: DNA

    Notice that i write "energy" because gosth are supposed to be called "gosth" but in a scientific way gosth can be called:Human residual energy
    but is this energy have a mind left? maybe yes
    explain: our brain cannot work without energy.simple like that
    our brain is also a kind of antenna who can "broadcast" and receive other brain signal (brain signal are scientificly proved) those signal can explain many "paranormal power" such as telekinesy: brain waves are acting on the target we want.

    about energy, where it come from?
    i herd a theory that energy are comming inside our red blood cell. aparently inside our cell
    there is some king of "generator" who shake in a high frequency and produce electricity
    (this theory can maybe explain emotion like fear, or sadness for example, i mean if the "generator" in the cell is shaking in a different frequency, you will maybe feel something)

    when we die (i think we all wait this moment^^)
    energy cannot stay inside the body due to some critical damage (maybe you've got headshoted by a random sniper for example) so the energy needed to stay alive and sherch
    for energy in all living entity like human, animal and even in the ionized air

    "I see no reason for movies (and books) to be alone with causing these feelings and think that if properly executed, games can do it too"
    -The guy who post.

    horror movie, games or books are lefting those emotion because we all herd about a gosth story somewhere in a castle in ireland called:leap castle, or an lefted asylum who an hundred of people die called:Waverly hills sanatorium, or just a random place called: myrtill's plantation
    (no youtube scary car)

    people who investigating those place bring back "proof" is it fake? maybe yes, maybe not.
    to dissmiss all sceptical vision, the only way is to ask two person to go inside those and try to capture something like electronic voices phenomena (EVPs), visual phenomena, or auditive phenomena.

    we all see someking of proof that human residual energy is real or not and it stay in our mind

    so tell me if i understand the post cause im not really sure if i clearly understand it. i need to lern english more ;)

    hope it can still be readable.

  6. Tjenare! SKITBRA post grabbar! När jag såg Paranormal Activity, så sket jag ( nästan ) ner mig. Upplägget är så simpelt, men dom lyckas skrämma folk till en helt ny nivå.

    Nu kanske jag slickar lite röv, men det påminner mycket om hur ni med Penumbra kom in och ändrade mitt perspektiv för survival horror spel!

    Ok kanske svårt att förklara... Men såhär är det!

    Ni VET att dagens skräckfilmer OCH spel för den delen, är påväg mot hollywood. Med det sagt, så menar jag att de helt enkelt SMÄLLER in en *peep* massa action. Och när dom väl ska försöka skrämma folk, är det oftast att dom slänger något "i ditt ansikte" och skriker till som fan med ett högt ljud. Visst man hoppar till, men samtidigt dör man av en hjärtattack + man sitter och spänner sig av helt fel orsaker.

    Penumbra och Paranormal Activity, behåller ÄKTA skräck i mina ögon. Då du inte alls är säker på vad som ska hända, och du verkligen KÄNNER dig ett med filmen/spelet. Jag vill återigen tacka er för den bästa speltriologin som finns där ute, och jag ska förhandsboka Amnesia så fort jag får pengar hehe!

    PS // Det är jag som är idioten som la upp ett youtubeklipp, som sa att det bara var 2 personer som gjorde Penumbra! haha

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. Idioten som spammar...26 April 2010 at 09:07

    HELVETE!!!! Fan ber om ursäkt till tusen... Trodde det var datorn som spelade mig ett spratt, men igentligen var det bara blogspot som var seg... Hoppas du kan ta bort dom här kommentarerna, såklart kanske spara en!

  9. I liked Paranormal Activity in the beginning but I think it went overboard and got a bit silly towards the end. Also, the acting wasn't that good and the script wasn't either. But it did have some good parts so all in all it's an OK movie.

  10. "The best tip for the folks that made PA can learn is the NEVER make another damn film again. Horrendously bad is every possible way."


  11. I had mixed feelings about Paranormal Activity. I was about to turn it off about half an hour in because it felt like a really long YouTube video. I understand that the 'documentary' effect is supposed to make the movie seem more real and less like a movie, and while many movies have pulled it off well, I don't think PA did. I was annoyed with the characters instead of feeling closer to them.

    When the movie actually started trying to scare you, it seemed to be able to do so competently. I was scared by the ghost-thing a few times throughout the movie, but you knew the only time the ghost was going to do something scary was at night, and whenever it was nighttime, the ghost would do something scary. There is something to be said for having the viewer know something bad is going to happen, but when you say 'This Is The Scary Part', followed by 'Scary Part Over', it takes away from the fear.

    I guess this review doesn't seem very positive, but I didn't hate it. I thought it was a flawed attempt to do something original with the horror genre. Compared to most of the western horror crap that keeps coming out, that is a very high praise.

    On the topic of using familiar environments in a horror game/movie, I think it would be an interesting idea. I found the house in PA to actually add to the suspense rather than detract from it, so it would be interesting if that could translate into a game.

  12. This is a review I wrote on after watching it:

    A lot of people, including some of my friends, describe this movie as the "scariest movie ever" and the "greatest horror movie ever made". I'm a huge horror movie fan and I especially like horror movies about something supernatural/paranormal, be it ghosts, monsters or otherwise. I watch pretty much every horror movie I can get my hands on in the hopes of discovering some hidden gem amongst all the generic slasher crap out there. I'm mostly disappointed and annoyed with all the unoriginal killer-chases-screaming-girl-around-for-90-minutes horror movies that seem very popular to make these days, but sometimes, just sometimes, something good pops up like The Exorcism of Emily Rose or Pandorum and blows me away. Paranormal Activity is not one of them. Unlikable characters played by mediocre actors, all done at a very slow pace and a very low budget. This movie is basically The Exorcist filmed like The Blair Witch Project but a lot more boring, with much worse actors and a shitty ending. It even says thanks to "the Penasquitos Police Department for providing this footage." in the opening of the movie, which makes it seem even more like a Blair Witch ripoff. I can't seem to find any part of this movie scary at all. Most of the time you know what's going to happen. It's all been done before and done a lot better. Ghost Hunters is both scarier and more interesting. Paranormal Activity isn't a terrible movie, it's just not a very good movie… If you want to see a good horror movie about the paranormal, demons and exorcisms then go watch The Exorcism of Emily Rose. You won't be disappointed. On a scale from 1-10 I would rate this movie at about a 4.

  13. i have to comment the crom post.

    i agreed with you at 75%. but not for the ending of pa.

    the original ending was surprised me and quite funny, and make me jump, the first time you see this ending, it's a real (surprise!! boom on the cam!), and then, (yes, of course) see eat the camera (lol)

    the second ending however, i already seen this a thousand time. i was more laughing then other thing....(the second ending was pathetic, let's be honest)

    "It even says thanks to "the Penasquitos Police Department for providing this footage." in the opening of the movie"

    now i totally agreed with you in this point.
    the producer thing we are stupid or what!? this is a movie, not a documentary!

    and they use the word:"footage", not video clip or movie, like if it was really happend,
    on other word, producer thing people don't know to make a difference between true and fake.... that was a fail sentence of pa,

    from my part, i didn't hate it, and didn't love it too. i am neutral...

  14. I loved this film, just because of the techniques they used to create fear and unease. I'm glad you mentioned the low frequency sound that is heard during several of the paranormal manifestations.

    As for whether horror works best in an everyday location or a more traditionally horror-centric location, I think both can work really well as long as the effort and time are put in to make them work.

    I do have a particular liking for the more gothic sort of horror, which is why Amnesa is quite appealing to me and I think I'll enjoy it even more than I enjoyed the Penumbra series.

  15. One game gave me a sense of uneasiness after shutting it off: Silent Hill for PS1. That game is still amazing. The low res graphics actually enhance the creepiness.

  16. speaking of blair witch... the blair witch games were very good, iirc the ppl who made nocturne (another good horror game) made them.

  17. The great thing about the film is that it was made for $15K(US) with the bulk of that going to special effects.

    The film is scary, but only if you watch it alone in the middle of the night with all of the lights off and don't analyze it.

    Like the screen grab you've posted. Yes that is a freaky shadow on the door, but it is an obvious human shadow cast by a guy in a green gimp suit. They could have spent another hundred to give the guy in the gimp suit a goat head to go with another key part of the plot.

    Be sure to watch the alternate ending on the directors edition, it doesn't make a lot of sense story wise but it is well done.

  18. Interesting how so many people didnt like this film. Yes it wasnt perfect, but I go into films like this with an open mind these days, just watch it first and see what you think about it, dont pick to to pieces right from the start like so many of my friends did when they watched it. I think getting off on the wrong foot with these things and expecting them to be bad because they are 'indie' or different is just shortsighted.

    But either way, I found this very haunting, it was great. Movies very rarely scare me, which is why I play horror games, there a lot more involving and scary when done right.

    But PA was different, it might just be me, but it scratched at some dormant human fear of mine, and I found myself still frightened after the movie, even days later when I was out and about in daylight I was still experiencing moments of panic over the thought of the film. Just looking at that picture at the start of this blogpost makes me shivers! You dont really understand it until after youve seen the movie, but that shadow on the door is ingeniously frighting and very subtle (subtle horror is amazing when done well).

    The ending is important as well, the hollywood 'throwing at the camera' ending is rubbish. The rocking back and forth for days on end ending is physiologically scarring. It makes you sit there and wonder what the hell is going on in her mind for all that time. Its great.

    Im tired of all these stupid horror movies with giant monsters and stupid screaming 'supermodel' girls. Im also tired of people who cant sit down and enjoy a movie that actually has an intro, a buildup and no immediate action until later on.

    Im glad PA was made, it has given the horror community future hope for the medium of movies.

  19. Okay, I found time to watch the movie.
    I didn't read all of the comments above, but I saw that many people didn't like it. I don't understand why anyone would even hate it…

    Anyways, I just wanted to let Thomas and all of you know how I found it.

    It is the cheapest, yet the most scaring film I've ever seen! There is so much tension in every minute of it - without the use of blood or something like that, which is remarkably.

    The ending is important as well because it leaves much of the tension trapped inside my mind, and it still lets me think about the events that occurred in the movie.

    I think a good horror movie keeps one awake at night, an Paranormal Activity is, at least for me, definitely one of that kind!

  20. I wouldn't say it is the scariest movie or whatever, because that's different from person to person. It's just a matter of taste. Anyway, I also think that the movie isn't so bad. Some movies that are pretty scary in my opinion (at least they were, when I've seen them for the first or last time) are _REC_ (original spanish version - NOT the remake <- actually I haven't seen the remake yet!), _Darkness Falls_ and an older movie with Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford: _What lies beneath_

  21. PS.: This isn't actually a scary movie but it's one of the best movies I've ever seen in my life: Jim Carrey in _Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind_

  22. I like the idea of a more homely horror style game.
    I instantly came up with a ton of ideas but I ran out of room to post it here so I'll just say a mix of Shenumue's item examining, Eternal Dark's insanity mechanics (minus the 4th wall style scares), Silent Hill the rooms, Penumbra style sounds, camera recording (anti insanity) mechanics, 3rd person, room dimension twisting, errands to do in the day and tennates to convince while crazy crap at night fighting you for the character's valuable sleep needed for work in the morning and overall sanity that needs to be proven to the many skeptical fellow teenates in an aparement complex huanted to the brim with something otherworldly that chooses the main char first.
    Oh please do ask me for details I couldn't fit them here and I very much like them.
    Royalty free ofcourse, I'm a beleiving in open source stuff afterall.

    But anyway, I think it could work well with some simulations a little story telling into the main char's backstory and some little mechanics that allow the player to ticker with everything and preform errands so the game can turn them back against hte player very very slowly every in game night. :3
    The best horror games are those that reward (punish perhaps?) the very curious player.

    That notion of a home setting gave me a good lot of ideas. :3

    Anyway, never saw the movie, while I did some some scenes. I can't really say much on it.
    Horror movies just don't scare me anymore. I tend to know what might happen next and how the ending will be and characters dying too soon tends to ruin it for me when they could have instead fought against the unimagenable odds from start to finish. More psychological scares are better than basic stuff.
    A mix is nice, but I like the characters staying alive in the end.

    Anyway, before I write more than this box can handle, I best go back to finding how to get that Humble Indie Bundle penumbra discount.

  23. erm, ehm, when I speak of 3rd person I mean first. Excuse my own self confusion.

  24. I just wanted to inform you all that there's a trailer for Paranormal Activity 2 ->

  25. One thing I always thought was interesting was the following excerpt from an article on Japanese horror, written by Chris from Chris' Survival Horror Quest ( ):

    "There may also be another, secondary trait here; while American horror is often concerned with a decent into the unknown (Jonathan Harker's trek to Dracula's castle, the group of teenagers entering the haunted house cliché, the Bates Motel in Psycho, et cetera), Japanese tales often describe the unknown invading the known. Sadako comes out of the TV and directly into the homes of her victims, Hanako's toilet is not a noteworthy location, and the samurai in The Story of Okiku cannot escape the ghost of Okiku because she refuses to stay in her well. This probably relates back to Suzuki's conclusion that the Japanese accept a degree of otherworldliness all around them, while Americans like to concentrate our evil spirits in a specific location (witness our oft-employed "Ancient Indian Burial Ground" cliché). The American approach may be another side effect of Christianity's tendency to separate everything into absolutes (in this case, defining explicit physical boundaries between "evil locations" and "normal locations"), but it also means our horror is often less effective; once a character or location is known to be "good" or "evil," there is a certain degree of expectation we can rely upon to remove tension from the drama. The more vague and invasive approach often employed in Japanese horror can thus be far more affecting, as we do not have any comfortable story archetype to cling to."


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