For the creators of the “Paranormal Activity” series, making a new installment every year means coming up with new ways to terrify audiences on a fairly regular basis. By “Paranormal Activity 4,” you can’t simply slam a door or make the sheets flutter anymore. You have to think outside the box.
“Paranormal Activity 4″ does something the series has never done before by setting the latest batch of hauntings in the present day. The main character, Alex, video chats with her boyfriend whenever she’s not with her brother, playing with Xbox Kinect, both of which eventually play key roles in making the audience shriek.
Though it may seem like a novel concept, incorporating a laptop camera into “Paranormal Activity 4″ played an important practical role in the filmmaking. “We were really psyched just to do a shot where the girl’s carrying a laptop, and it’s just filming her. Anything can go on behind, and she wouldn’t necessarily know unless the person on the other end of the video chat told her that it was behind her,” Schulman said. “It just seemed like a really fun way to carry a camera and film yourself because otherwise there’s no other way to shoot close-ups in a ’Paranormal’ movie. Usually you’re filming forward, so this way you can actually get a reaction shot.”
The laptop also gave Schulman and Joost the opportunity to reference one of the all-time classic horror movie images. “The laptop scare is good for many reasons. #1, it’s a close-up. The close-up on a teenaged girl’s face being scared is a horror movie icon,” Joost said. “You’ve got this 15-year-old girl in close-up, and she can’t see what’s happening behind her. If it’s dark, the only light is from the laptop screen, which is scary. It has all the right ingredients to be in a horror movie.”
Making video chat scary is actually a lot easier than you would think. “Just have her put the laptop down and leave frame for an extended period of time, and just have the other person on the end of the video chat just waiting for her to come back,” Schulman said.
The Xbox Kinect and its invisible field of tracking dots surprised Joost and Schulman, but provided an opportunity for a new kind of scare. “[The Xbox Kinect scares] started because we were looking around and thinking about how many cameras there are around your house. My laptop has a camera built in. His does. The Kinect is actually two cameras,” Joost said. “We were thinking maybe some of the filming will be done with the Kinect, and then we started researching what it’s capable of and found this video on YouTube where someone was like, ’Do you actually know how this thing works and how it projects this grid of dots on the room that’s completely invisible to the naked eye, but if you have the right camera, you can see it?’ We were just like, ’Oh my God, this has to be in the movie. That’s so crazy looking.’ ”
In a weird way, the new technology fits nicely into the tradition of the series. “I think it’s very ’Paranormal Activity’ because it’s like, there’s this stuff going on in the house that you can’t see,” Joost said. “Now we have a little bit of a window into what those things look like.”
Schulman agreed. “The ghost dimension.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “Paranormal Activity 4.”