When Oren Peli's Paranormal Activity was scooped up at the 2008 Slamdance Film Festival, theatrical release was the furthest thing from anyone's mind. Jazzed by the film's concept — a suburban couple are terrorized by an unseen presence in their San Diego home, with everything captured on surveillance cameras — more than the actual movie, the plan was to do a glossy, big-budget remake and relegate first-time writer-director Peli's original version to a DVD extra.
But after remake plans fell through and Paranormal Activity sat on the shelf for more than a year, someone decided to test the waters for a theatrical launch. The studio scheduled some promotional screenings, mostly in college towns and hip urban areas. Young audiences responded to the film's stripped-to-the-bones visual aesthetic, which somehow made everything seem more "real," and less like, you know, a movie. Soon, a Pavlovian-style viral buzz began to build, and marketing mavens came up with the genius idea of making people "demand" the film in their area.
The rest, as they say, is history. It wasn't long before Paranormal Activity was playing in multiplexes across the country, and the internet-driven sensation eventually grossed an astonishing $108 million. Because Hollywood success breeds contempt as well as sequels, Paranormal Activity 2 hits theaters on Friday, a little more than a year after the original.
As someone who loathed the first Paranormal Activity, I'm more than a little surprised to actually be looking forward to the follow-up. For starters, it's not in 3-D. Plus, Paranormal Activity 2 is directed by Tod Williams, who made one of my favorite movies of the past decade — 2004's The Door in the Floor. But since Williams hasn't directed anything besides a nature documentary in the six years since The Door in the Floor established him as one of the nation's most exciting new directors, it's just good to see him working again.
Written by Columbus native Michael R. Perry, Paranormal Activity 2 again stars the unremarkable Katie Featherston, reprising her role from the first movie. But plot details have been closely guarded. We know there's a sleeping baby who's maybe being spooked by something from the first movie. Other than that, it all looks rather vague.
Will lightning strike twice for the series? The fact that the sequel didn't even cost $3 million to make pretty much guarantees a profit. And whatever the film's fate, Williams already has his next gig lined up: He's slated to direct a remake of the 2006 Icelandic thriller Jar City. Sequels, remakes, sigh ... It's tough being a working director in Hollywood these days.
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