Paranormal State

I'm sittin' on a rainbow...

I guess The Asylum was done with it.

Paranormal Activity cleared its $15,000 production budget in the first few hours of its theatrical run, so sequel details were just a matter of time. Paramount recently signed a director for the next installment: Kevin Greutert, editor of the first five Saw films and director of the sixth. Almost as quickly as Greutert was assigned, he was removed — Lionsgate exercised a contractual option obliging him to direct Saw VII 3-D. It’s more than just a conflict of shooting schedules; it’s something of a conflict of interests: Paramount has Paranormal Activity 2 set for an October 22nd release. Lionsgate will drop Saw VII the same day.

That's the bedroom, nothing ever happened in there.Strictly speaking, Paranormal Activity has already had a sequel. Paranormal Activity: The Search for Katie [A Case Study by Dr. Johann Averys, DMN], a comic for the iPhone, was released by IDW (30 Days of Night) in early December. The comic’s written by Scott Lobdell, who wrote Uncanny X-Men for a pretty considerable stretch of the 1990s, starting right about when I stopped reading it, almost down to the issue. In any case I don’t have an iPhone.

Back to Paranormal Activity 2. Greutert was forthcoming with his displeasure on his blog (it’s long since deleted):

I just had the task of telling my 83 year old mother that no, I’m not going to be allowed to direct the movie we were all so excited about when my family last got together, and that I’m being forced to leave town before getting a chance to see her again. Yes, I’ll be filming people getting tortured YET AGAIN. So we’ll have to put off me making a film she can actually watch for another year.

On the Paranormal Activity side, I wouldn’t be too worried. There’s a script, but considering they signed a director closely associated with a series based on visible gore for the sequel to a flick where the lack of gore is key, rethinking that choice may be best for the franchise if it’s to deliver more of the same (which is presumably what it intends to offer up as an alternative to Saw for October moviegoers). Latest baffling word from the LA Times is that Brian De Palma is a leading candidate to direct Paranormal Activity 2. Others in the running are Brad Anderson (Session 9, The Machinist, and for my money one of the most underrated directors working), and the talented Greg McLean (Wolf Creek, Rogue). All three are probably well above Paranormal Activity 2, but unless Saw picks up Wes Anderson, any of them would cement Paranormal as the more intriguing of the warring projects.

On the Saw side, the seventh installment is written by Patrick Melton — a better stylistic fit than Greutert, considering his experience on Saw (episodes V and VI) and the grisly recent Collector — who says he has a strong feeling that it’ll be the last. Melton isn’t calling the shots here, regardless of whatever finality he thinks he’s written into the flick — after all, this is a franchise which has run four installments since the bored creative crew killed off the villain. Most folks seem to be citing as evidence of VII’s finality the rather poor box office take of Saw VI, which topped out domestically at $27 million in comparison to the rest of the series (the others each made at least $55 mil), but that’s a healthy profit on an $11 million budget. Even if Lionsgate doesn’t want to put the advertising budget into it anymore, I can’t see it not continuing as a direct-to-video endeavor. David Hackl was on board to direct Saw VII before getting the boot. Hackl’s tale? He’s been with the Saw series since II as production designer and second-unit director before trying out the director’s chair for Saw V.

Oops, I think I put that upside down.Like everyone else, I make a lot of fun of The Global Asylum’s brand of shameless low-budget knockoffs (the term mockbuster seems to be gaining currency) without ever having stooped to watch one. Paranormal Entity intrigued me: if the real thing was shot for fifteen large,  how much would The Asylum spend? If Roland Emmerich’s 2012 cost Sony $200 million and Asylum brought Doomsday: 2012 in at, say, a quarter of a million (as estimated by IMDb), does that 0.00125% proportion hold true for other flicks? If so, Paranormal Entity would have to come in at $18.75, which seems stingy even for them. If, on the other hand, they’re willing to look past their strict formula, they could confidently drop a still-thrifty fifty grand or so and hike the production values up well past the level of the film they’re aping. I was curious enough to make it my first Asylum venture.

Well, if they dropped fifty grand on this, they dined well, unless they had to pay Erin Marie Hogan a topless bonus. If you had the camera (singular will do) already and weren’t paying your actors, I think you actually could wrap this one up for that $18.75 — a couple blank tapes for the camera and a quick thrift store outing and you’re all set. Actors bring their own costumes, which is to say, wear their usual clothes. House is already set up. Very little lighting needed (if the camera doesn’t have a night-vision function, you shoot day for night and tint it minty green in post-production). Come to think of it, Paranormal Entity is probably the closest thing to a Dogme film I’ve seen in a couple years. Heck, the director doesn’t get credited, and I’m not even sure Lars von Trier sticks to that one. In defense of The Asylum’s penny-pinching, this does mean it’s faithful to the production values of the original (where ‘production values’ means ‘general appearance of somebody’s house’ and not in any sense ’special effects’).

And how similar is the movie itself? Usually the Asylum shoots these things early based on premise; it’s not tough to whip up an outline for Transmorphers without seeing Transformers, assuming you’ve got a passing familiarity with 1986. Here they couldn’t have known Paranormal Activity would be worth jocking until that sizable wave of viral marketing crested into a heavy TV spot campaign just before the release date. So they didn’t get to it until afterward, and as a result, it didn’t fit with the preferred Asylum release method of hitting DVD a couple days before the big-budget version hits theaters. Luckily it takes The Asylum about two weeks to shoot even its bigger, more megashark-laden productions, so Paranormal Entity had plenty of time for writer, cast and crew to watch Activity at their leisure (this borne out by Hogan’s admission that she’d seen the movie prior to being cast) before shooting, so they’d know what they were aiming for. The production timeline on Paranormal Entity comes out looking something like this:

  • buy tickets to Paranormal Activity for a couple key players,
  • bang out an outline (i.e., jot down Activity’s basic structure) during the flick,
  • writer / uncredited director / unseen male lead Shane Van Dyck plots a few key moments (“Most of the script was improvised,” said Hogan),
  • shoot for a few days in someone’s house,
  • and still probably wrap within a few weeks of the first Activity screenings,
  • managing in the end to beat Activity’s DVD release date by a full week.

As for the content, it’s remarkably faithful to the film it’s based on, not scene-by-scene but not too far removed from it, and the major touchstones of Paranormal Activity are replicated, or at least recounted. Particularly entertaining: the central setpiece, the single most talked-about sequence? Either the crew of Paranormal Entity couldn’t quite figure it out (I know I couldn’t) or couldn’t afford it. It still happens, but it happens offscreen and is summarized by a witness. A few things are changed around — true to name, the filmmakers borrow a bit from The Entity (1981) — but this might be the first of Asylum’s flicks which could pass the Folgers Crystals test. If you’d kind of heard about Paranormal Activity, and maybe seen the TV spots, and you walked into a screening of Paranormal Entity (if such a thing existed), would you know you’d been had? Well, yes, you would, but you might or might not realize you weren’t watching the movie in question, a testimonial which doesn’t hold true if you’re inexplicably wandering into a screening of The Terminators. If such a thing existed.

Still, spell-check wouldn’t have hurt.

Closely realted — so, the neighbors?

Comment from PLA - February 26, 2010 at 2:09 pm

I am generally with you as far as Brad Anderson goes, but I must say that Transsiberian did lessen my enthusiasm a bit.

Also, I would pay pretty good money to see a Wes Anderson Saw movie.