A frenzy over the ultra-low-budget horror film has been building for weeks with fans flocking to sold-out midnight showings in college towns, thanks to strong word of mouth on such websites as Facebook and Twitter.
Last week, the film - which was made for less than $11,000 - opened in 44 cities and raked in $7.9 million. The cinema-verite phenomenon will open across the nation this weekend after a million fans demanded a wide release on the website eventful.com.
Will the film replicate the success of Blair Witch Project, which grossed $248.6 million in worldwide box office? On the eve of its national release, RadarOnline.com talked exclusively to writer/director Oren Peli about the fan fervor, tapping into people's "intimate personal fears" and why you never second-guess Steven Spielberg.
Radar: How are you feeling on the eve of your big release?
Peli: "I'm feeling very excited."
Radar: You're not nervous?
Peli: "I'm always a little nervous. But things seem to be going so well now and I have a lot of faith in the fans. They seem to be embracing the movie so much that I'm feeling pretty good about it. And hopefully they'll stay behind the movie."
Radar: What makes the film so scary?
Peli: "It's probably a combination of a few things: The way it's presented is very real and the footage is very authentic. Even though people know it's not real, it still feels like it is. Another thing is the concept that you're really never safe at home when you're asleep. I think that taps into people's primal fears. And much of it is because of the amazing performances of actors Katie and Micah who make the movie very relatable and easy to get into."
Radar: What is it about their performance that made the movie work?
Peli: "They made the whole thing believable. If their performance was theatrical or their own instincts or intuition didn¹t guide their characters in the right way, then you wouldn't buy into the whole premise."
Radar: What do you think of the hype surrounding the film?
Peli: "A lot of people responding really well to the movie and a lot of fans tell their friends. They go on Twitter and Facebook and spread the word. I think a lot of people really genuinely love the movie. Not everyone loves it, but enough people do to make sure it spreads nationwide."
Radar: Where did you come up with the idea for the film?
Peli: "The idea came from me moving into a house and being conscious of all of these noises and creaks and things happening in the middle of the night and a few other weird things that were happening. I started thinking: How would you find out what's really going on while you were asleep? That's when you are unaware of what's going on and you're the most vulnerable. What if someone set up a video camera and actually captured something happening in the middle of the night. That would be really creepy."
Radar: Have you ever had any real-life experiences with the paranormal?
Peli: "There were some weird things happening in the house, but nothing that I would say that we definitely had a ghosts."
Radar: Is it true you changed the ending at the suggestion of Steven Spielberg?
Peli: "We had a lot of criticism to the original ending. A lot of people really dug it and others thought it wasn't up to the standards of the rest of the movie. We screened a few other endings and the one that was suggested by Spielberg tested really well. Everyone loved it. No one knew it was the Spielberg ending, but it played so well that it was a very good choice."
Radar: What horror films were you inspired by?
Peli: "The Exorcist is one movie that really freaked me out when I was a kid. It definitely changed my outlook on movies and really got to me more than any other movie. The other one was Blair Witch. It not only showed me a movie can be done as a cinema-verite and be very effective and very successful, but also it made me think Well if they did it, maybe I can do it as well."
Radar: So many recent horror films have been of the torture porn variety. Is that trend dead?
Peli: "I can't speak for the whole industry, but I wanted to make a movie that's very subtle that plays on people's very intimate personal fears rather than go for shock value."
Radar: I hear there's a looming bidding war over your next movie, Area 51. Are you feeling any pressure being Hollywood's new it guy?
Peli: "I cannot comment about anything having to do with the next movie, sorry."
Radar: But what's your reaction to now being a hot commodity in Hollywood right now?
Peli: "I'm not feeling like a commodity, for now I'm just enjoying everything that's going on with Paranormal Activity and appreciate it all and am extremely grateful to the fans for making all this happen. I'm just taking it one day at a time."