Henry Joost: Yeah, I think you’re right. There’s a very fine line between…. There are things in this movie where we just felt like, “It’s the third one, so we have to take it to the next level.” I don’t want to be too specific about it, but I think that once people see it they’ll understand how we were able to do that.
Ariel Schulman: We’re dealing with a really dedicated fan-base here that knows the rules and knows exactly what they want, but at the same time wants to be given something completely unexpected. In the beginning, I sort of likened it to showing up at someone else’s wedding and having to give a really personal toast, and they’re listening to every single word, and you need to nail it just right.
It seems like you guys were intent on making this one the most extreme and hardcore Paranormal movie yet—I don’t know if “violent” is the right word, but it’s certainly more visceral than the previous two.
Henry Joost: Yeah, it’s definitely crazier. I mean, it’s the third one—you’ve got to step it up a little bit, but keep it in the same world.
What were the ideas that spawned from the notion of “taking it further”? Was it difficult to do that within the established context of a Paranormal Activity movie?
Henry Joost: I think the great challenge all summer has been…. The main goal of the movie is to scare people, so we’d show up on set and every day was a challenge to find a new, fresh way to scare people. And it was sort of like a battle royale of “Best Scare Wins!” What you see ultimately, in the final product, is all of the best scares that we could come up with through five months of trial and error.
One thing you guys do in the movie that seems to fulfill that is the “Bloody Mary” sequence, which is a perfect way of delivering scares in the late '80s concept. I vividly remember playing that with my cousins when I was little.
Henry Joost: I know, it’s like everyone at that age played it back then. How old are you?
Henry Joost: Yeah, [Ariel] just turned 30, and I’m 28. But, yeah, everyone did that—it’s like Teddy Ruxpin. Everyone remembers these things so clearly, it’s pretty funny. This movie takes you back; it taps into those early fears that we all had.
Ariel Schulman: That’s what Paranormal movies do. They tap into the simplest, most universal fears: the bedroom, nighttime, and those games you played as a kid when your imagination was wide open. I’ve heard this from a bunch of people, but people have said that they heard the words “Bloody Mary” in the commercial and they immediately turned the TV off. [Laughs.]
Some girl said to me the other day, “I can’t even brush my teeth in the mirror now, so thank you for that. Now I’m expecting a lady to pop out of the mirror and kill me.” Everyone brushes their teeth in the mirror so you can identify with this stuff. That’s why it’s such a simple and inexpensive type of film to make.
The Paranormal Activity movies work so well because they tap into that old-school approach to haunted house movies, like in the original The Haunting, not the awful remake. Was that something that really appealed to you guys about the project, as well?
Henry Joost: Totally, yeah. It’s not one of these movies where it’s about people’s eyeballs getting pulled out or limbs getting cut off; it’s about what you don’t see, and your imagination being the scariest thing. What’s in the dark? What’s behind that door? What’s just off camera? Those being the scariest things, which is film-wise something we totally agree with.
Ariel Schulman: Yeah, I don’t think you’re going to present something scarier than what people are imagining. There’s a sequence in The Haunting that’s the ultimate example of “more is less,” and it’s when they’re inside the bedroom, it’s the middle of the night, and the presence is on the other side of the door and the door starts bulging inward.
Hell yeah, that’s such a well-made sequence, and you don’t see anything at all.
Ariel Schulman: Exactly, and the handle starts shaking and they can hear it just stomping through the halls. They never open the door, they never see it, and it’s horrifying. That film was very inspiring for us.
It’s crazy, and even sad, that most people in Hollywood don’t seem to get that.
Ariel Schulman: Yeah, they waste all of this time spending money and building CGI monsters when all they have to do is just keep a close-up on the person’s face as they’re watching the monster run by, and let us fill in the blanks.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)