Frighteningly real

2010-02-13 00:00

LOW budget U.S. horror movie Paranormal Activity is the talk of school pupils across Pietermaritzburg and the midlands — despite the fact that the DVD is not yet available in stores and the city’s only cinema, CineCentre, never screened it.

The film, which was screened in Durban and reportedly cost just $15 000 to make, made around $150 million worldwide following its release last year, prompting comparisons with another horror film that did big business, 1999’s The Blair Witch Project.

Paranormal Activity opened in the U.S. at the end of September last year with midnight screenings in just 13 small college towns. From there, it became a web sensation, with excited chatter about the movie bouncing from Twitter to Facebook.

Described by SA film critic Leon van Nierop as “one of the three scariest movies I have ever seen”, it tells the story of a young couple, Katie and Micah, who discover that their new home is full of things that go bump in the night. When Micah decides to rig up a camera to record what is happening, the terror really begins.

It’s the realism that is apparently freaking out teenagers who see it. A teacher at one school in the midlands said around 80% of her senior pupils had seen the film, which they described as “creepy”.

She added: “They said the filming technology makes it so scary. It has a hand-held quality that helps con the viewer into believing it’s true. It makes it really freaky.”

When she asked the pupils why they thought it was popular with the youth, they apparently put it down to not really knowing what fear was.

“They told me they had never known war … and that unless you happen to live in a township or are held up at gunpoint, you don’t get to experience fear. It’s that adrenalin rush that they like,” the teacher said.

But on a more positive note, those comments led to a wider discussion on censorship and where society draws the line on what is acceptable, as well as a look at religion and how people appear to be moving away from mainstream churches.

Lynn Chemaly, who runs the St Anne’s school theatre, said the girls she had spoken to said the film’s subject matter and the way it appears to prove paranormal activity really exists make it quite frightening.

She added: “It would appear that it is quite scientific in approach, yet visually very frightening, so girls with strong visual imaginations are really struggling with the imagery.”

And, it’s not just South African youngsters who are affected by the film. Paranormal Activity is also at the centre of an Italian storm after a television trailer for the film reportedly terrified teenagers and children across the country.

Italy’s emergency response service reported dozens of calls, especially from southern Naples, where “several panic attacks took place on Saturday,” an employee told the ­Ansa news agency.

“The most serious case is that of a 14-year-old girl who was brought to the hospital in a state of paralysis.”

The concerns expressed by the Italian authorities come just weeks after reports that a sequel to the film is in the works. TV writer Michael R. Perry and director Kevin Greutert have been hired by Paramount to create the sequel, which is expected to hit theatres in October this year.

• To comment on the film, log on to www.witness.co.za. A trailer can be viewed via the website.

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