Paranormal Activity is the latest in the wave of tiny, micro-budgeted, raw and realistic mock docs to hit a nerve – and the jackpot.
Like Blair Witch long before it, PA was made for a song – $15k – and earned $183M worldwide.
It was shot on handheld and security cameras, with the barest threads of narrative and plotting, telling the story of a young suburban California couple battling demons in their home.
The original film is quiet and hypnotic for long stretches of time, creating a false sense of calm; you can literally watch time ticking by. And then it bursts into terror. The same formula is used in Paranormal Activity 2 (the prequel) and it’s just as effective the second time around.
A husband and wife, teenaged daughter and toddler son notice strange noises and occurrences; the dog is hyper alert and protective. Their nanny, played by Vivis Colombetti, is sensitive to the supernatural and knows the family is in danger. Colombetti is a natural for the part – she says she has had experiences with the supernatural.
Monsters and Critics spoke with Colombetti from her home in Los Angeles.
Monsters and Critics - What is the enduring appeal of the supernatural in pop culture?
Vivis Colombetti - We like being scared in a safe environment. Also I believe that most people have had some kind of experience with what we believe is the supernatural, confirming the fact that there is something out there along with us. I’m afraid to watch scary movies, and then I’m really curious.
That little voice inside says “What else can they show me that’s going to frighten me?” The secret of the success of Paranormal Activity is that it is subdued and we are kept in suspense. It’s effective. I watched the first one – and for so long nothing happens and then you get really scared and logically you know how they’re doing this.
But it’s irrelevant because you get caught up and they grab you right in. Going into this project I had no idea what was going to happen. They kept us in the dark. We were told this little low budget suspense film and then it became obvious what we were doing and it became huge. The studio was trying very hard to keep it real and scary.
M&C - So you were able to respond naturally?
VC - Yes indeed. They kept the crew away from us; we didn’t see the crew, which was the original plan. They were going to be in another house, but that wasn’t entirely possible technically. The family would just live together. I was brought in later as a different character. I’m not sure how the nanny was born.
I was told I would be in one scene maybe two but not sure what her purpose was yet so we shot the scenes twice, once with a brand new baby and one with an older child. I was going to do something “weird” but I wasn’t sure what “weird” would be.
M&C – Weird?
VC - I was free to do whatever I wanted. It was a great thing. I’m a stage actor and we were allowed to improvise every single day. The script changed every single day. We all showed up with open hearts and really excited to play. The director kept it going and let us be free to do what we wanted. It was so exciting to show up and not know what would happen.
M&C – It felt really authentic.
VC - They did scare us a few times. We didn’t know where we were going, and they did purposely frighten us. We weren’t prepared for them. The mother didn’t know if she was coming or going, she was just going into a room and … her reactions were very real. It was amazing.
M&C – How did your nanny know there were demons?
VC - My character comes from an indigenous spiritual background mixed in a little with Christianity but not that much, all indigenous roots. My grandmother was someone who believed in homeopathic healing, the kinds of things that are trendy now, herbs and teas and stones. She was into that that’s how she took care of me and my sisters. We didn’t turn to drugs.
She was spiritual but not religious, so these icons that she carried around, stones were powerful for healing and so she always had these items. I still keep my own altar for myself and all those items she used I carry around, because I know they care some kind of power or energy if you will. That came very easy to follow those footsteps.
M&C – So you referred to your grandmother to create the nanny?
VC - I took it farther. You don’t get to see her backstory but it’s all there. She does in fact come in touch with spirits constantly, so it’s nothing new to her. She feels this vibe and she knows exactly where it’s going. She can’t identify it exactly but she knows there is something evil or angry so she does try to warn the family. They don’t believe her.
M&C – I understand you have had supernatural experiences? What were they like?
VC - I’ve had many. Once I was in the bedroom changing bed sheets and a friend who had recently passed away appeared. I don’t see ghosts physically but I can feel their energy.
He showed up and stood in the corner of the room. I welcomed him and told him my husband was in the driveway and to go hang out with him. I told him he was welcome. He didn’t frighten me.
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