After the events of the first Paranormal Activity, chances were that we were never going to see "Katie," the preyed upon twenty-something at the center of the ghastly events, ever again. Few horror movie franchises follow the same people throughout their subsequent sequels. It was easy to imagine another faceless couple terrorized in the same ways as Katie and her boyfriend Micah in a theoretical Paranormal Activity 2.
Thankfully, that wasn't the case. Later installments built on the mythology of the established world, giving actress Katie Featherston reason to return in Paranormal Activity 2 and once again in this week's Paranormal Activity 4. This time she's working with directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (who helmed the third installment of the series), but speaking to Hollywood.com, Featherston insists it's one big family reuniting once again. "Oren [Peli, director of Paranormal Activity] is still very much involved as a producer," says Featherston. "The whole gang is still there. Ariel and Henry are really fun, very engaging. They work really well together. And they listen. If I have a thought or question, they're right there to talk to me about it. We film a lot, enough for two or three movies. It's always exciting to see what ends up in the final cut."
Thanks to the "found footage" nature of Paranormal Activity 4, Joost, Schulman, and their ensemble of actors are able to shoot a sizable amount of material — both drawn from the script and completely created off the cuff. "For the sequels, they've had a general idea of where they want the stories to go, but they've left a lot of room for improvisational fluidity," says Featherston. "If one of us thinks of something great in the moment or an idea, we can usually do it pretty quickly. I think that serves the story."
Featherston recounts shooting one scene from PA4 involving series newcomer Kathryn Newton and Brady Allen, who plays an older version of the boy Featherston's character kidnaps in the second film. After shooting it a few times, Peli stepped in to suggest a few other ideas. "Oren said, 'What if we tried a scene in another room and changed it up a bit.' And then the directors said, 'Yeah, seems like a great idea!' And that ended up being in the movie. It happened right there on the fly." Featherston likens the style to comedic improvisation. "I think it's a similar muscle. You have to listen and be quick on your feet and be grounded in the moment."
Continuing the series trend to stick with what works, Featherston insists that, even with Paranormal Activity 4, the making of the movies preserves the run and gun feel of the original — complete with practical special effects. "In the first movie almost everything, except for one tiny little shot at the end, was done practically," says Featherston. She explains that as that while the budgets for each film have grown a bit with each installment, Peli, Joost, and Schulman try and stay true to the tone and indie feel that's become a keystone. "Lots of dragging, wires, pulling — quite a bit of it is right in the room."
Paranormal Activity's expanding mythology has slowly dug into the identity of what plagues the franchise's characters and Featherston sees a real potential in the religious aspects of that reveal. While the actress isn't a religious person, she does have a "strong connection with spirituality and with God" and sees a lot of potential in touching on faith in the franchise. "I think it's an interesting way to take the franchise," says Featherston. "The idea of demons and exorcisms is rooting in religion, so it makes sense." Featherston admits that she grew up with a religious family, but that it's never kept them from enjoying her work in the movies. "At the end of the day, we're making a really enjoyable scary movie. We're not trying to make a huge statement."
After four outings, Featherston expresses interest at trying her hand at other types of material. That said, she still has questions about her alter ego "Katie." "I feel bad for the normal, unpossessed Katie," says Featherston. "She's still in there!" The actress imagines a Paranormal Activity where Katie has a chance to wake up from her possessed state and discover the life she lost — her boyfriend Micah, her sister, and her family. "I don't know if it's a scary movie — it sounds like a bad drama. But I'd love to see some closure. [Laughs] Paranormal Activity: The Indie Drama."
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures]
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