Paranormal-Activity:-The-Marked-Ones-Poster-sliceTo mark the home entertainment release of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, HeyUGuys had the pleasure to speak with Christopher Landon, the writer-director of this latest instalment and veteran scribe of Paranormal Activity. Our discussion became a chronological journey from childhood encounters with Aliens and wandering the forbidden section of the video store, to the director’s chair of The Marked Ones.

Why a career in filmmaking? Was there that one inspirational moment?

It was probably when one of my sisters took me to see Aliens in the movie theatre and during that classic scene where Ripley screams “Get away from her you bitch!” the audience stood up out of their seats screaming and cheering. It was that moment where I thought I want to make people do that; I want to make movies. So that was a defining moment for me.

Can you remember the moment you discovered the horror genre?

I have always loved the genre, and I grew up watching horror films. When I was about six or seven years old my parents divorced, and I would visit my dad on the weekends. We would go to the video store, and of course the horror section was the forbidden section. The cassette covers always fascinated me, and so I was always curious about those movies. Then my dad started to let my sister and I watch them, and very quickly we both became addicted. Every weekend we would watch probably five horror films. This went on and on until I just came obsessed with the genre. I saw everything – classic horror, as well as shitty and weird horror movies; it was the full spectrum.

Your introduction to the Paranormal Activity series was Paranormal Activity 2. How did your involvement in the series come about?

I had made a film a few years before with some of the filmmakers who were involved in Paranormal Activity. I had written Disturbia, and they were early in the process of making Paranormal Activity 2. They were having some issues, and so they brought me in to just pitch some ideas. I pitched them the sequence in Paranormal Activity 2 where Kristi gets dragged out of the nursery and down the stairs. They liked it, and so they hired me to rewrite the film as they were shooting it. I became deeply invested in the franchise as well as the process, and so from that point forward I just kept on writing the films.

There is the old adage, “You have to go through hell to get to paradise.” But within horror including the Paranormal Activity series paradise seems to be missing from the conclusion of the journey. Are protagonists the victims of the cruelty of their filmmakers, which identifies the genre as one that offers an unfavourable fate to its many past and future protagonists?

I would say horror in general is pretty bleak [laughs]. There’s no redemption for any of our characters in this franchise, and it never ends well for them. Part of it is that it is a franchise, and if you strike a chord of resolution it doesn’t lend itself to continuing. So we don’t want to necessarily wrap things up and leave people in a good place, because then we’d feel that we didn’t have anywhere else to go.

I believe a lot of horror fans go for this, and if I think back on some of my favourite classic horror films, even though Laurie survives in Halloween, Michael Myers is still out there killing people, and Carrie ends with that classic sequence with the hand coming up out of the ground. I believe people still want the jolt at the conclusion, and it’s always had that. But our films are definitely darker.

I’m working on a horror film right now that’s more of a horror comedy. It doesn’t have a sad, horrible or terrible ending, and so it’s refreshing to have characters that live [laughs].

After a period of severe bloodletting in the genre with a series of films that formed the Torture Porn sub-genre, the Paranormal Activity series was a return to pure suspense. What was masterful was your exploitation of empty space, and you framed it in such a way that it became a space for us to project our own fears onto. Ultimately, you created space that allowed our imagination to be the source of the horror and suspense.

I agree with you, and I’m more of a fan of suspense than straight up horror. I believe that suspense stays with you, and it’s more psychological in nature versus a visual gorefest. Look I have no issue with gore, and I can enjoy those movies to, but I definitely lean more towards the suspense side of things.

Oren Peli set the template with the wide frame in the first Paranormal Activity where you were searching for the thing that was going to happen. Then we tried to expand that idea in Paranormal Activity 2 with the security cameras all over the house. But with the third film it climaxed in a funny way when we created what we called the pan cam, which kept turning back and forth. Just when you started to see something you would lose sight of it, and so it was not knowing what was coming around the corner that we were playing with in that movie.

The big blank canvas is something that we have utilised to its fullest potential over the course of the franchise. But once I got to The Marked Ones, I felt that we couldn’t do that anymore because we had done it over and over again. We needed to try and explore new territory as well as a different style.

How did you confront the challenge of finding a new creative angle within the conception of The Marked Ones through to the execution of the film?

A number of people thought that the idea for the film was born out of a marketing and demographic consideration, “Oh, there is this big Latino market, lets exploit it.” But this was not actually the case. Rather we had talked about how it would be nice to get out of the suburbs for once, and enter into an urban landscape. This was what appealed to me most, and then we thought it would be interesting to focus on a Mexican-American family that lived in this urban environment. So that was where the creative juices started, and then I pitched to the studios the idea to throw away the conventions of the series. “Let’s get rid of night one, night two and night three. Let’s not do static cameras in one house. Let’s use handheld cameras so that we can be mobile, and let’s change the pace of the storytelling.” Collectively we all wanted it to feel different but at the same time connected to the other films, and so this is what we were attempting to do throughout.

Your journey from spectator to the director’s chair has been an interesting journey.

I have to say that the best thing about working on these movies has been my experience with the other directors as well as with all the creative people who have worked on these films. It is a collaborative process, and on these films everyone in the room has a say. In a lot of other cases you have a film where it is just the director or the auteur, and the chain of command stops there. But here we would all sit in a room together, and even on set the directors and some of the producers would sit around and watch the filming, talk about it, change things at the last minute and then throw out new ideas. It was that collaborative energy and the spirit of the unexpected that made these movies feel fresh and fun.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is out on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital now