'Paranormal Activity' Director Says Latest Film was Inspired by 'Downton Abbey', Talks Film's Race Issues
It's rare that a junket for a movie takes place after the film's release. Hitchcock did it for 1960's Psycho, and a few films have done it since — this sort of delayed free marketing is usually reserved for the horror genre. A film with a late embargo date and talent that won't speak of their project until after the film's been seen by audiences is usually trying to do one thing, and one thing only: protect spoilers. Over the weekend, the fifth installment in the Paranormal Activity franchise hit theaters, taking a break from the usual haunted house story to tell an off shoot tale of one Los Angeles Latino family's unfortunate run-in with unearthly possession. Bustle sat down with the film's director, Christopher Landon, and the film's three young actors on Monday to talk about the film's inspiration, casting, and the diversity element unforeseen in past Paranormal flicks.
The film centers around three friends, one of whom becomes "possessed" and gains strange powers, which while initially seem helpful, eventually overtake him in an evil way.
"This is going to sound completely random," Landon said at Monday's Los Angeles press day for the film. "I was really inspired by Downton Abbey."
Yes, that Downton Abbey — the one with Lady Mary and Carson the Butler and an old-timey mansion void of supernatural activity (that we know of anyways).
"I mean that because [Downton] took a dusty old format, and it made it feel contemporary," Landon explained. "How it did that was the economy of story: It advanced really quickly, it managed to do a lot with very little time. So it was the pacing of that, that inspired me."
And he's right, the first four Paranormal movies did not follow this fast-paced format, rather, they were "very slow burns," as Landon said. The pace is noticably quicker in this film, and given the 84 minute run time (a rarity for Hollywood standards) the quick movements appear necessary to the film's progression.
"The first act plays like a comedy, and that's what endears us to the characters. We win [the audience] over because we're making them laugh, we're showing them a family and a friendship that feels relatable," Landon said. "The second act feels like an origin story, a superhero story. Then we transition into a suspense, possession story, and then the third act is completely batshit crazy, full horror."
While the format and pacing are undoubtably different, another part of this film that stands out, versus others in the series, is its nearly entirely Latino cast. But the term "Latino" encompasses so many different types of people — Mexican, Puerto Rican, Spanish, etc. — that casting a singular family became a challenge itself. "It was a long, hard search. We canvased high schools, had massive open auditions. You had to keep it all in the same dialect. That was a big challenge, finding people that were believably related to each other."
And what Landon finally found was a trio that had both instant chemistry and could be presumably from the same small, LA community. Jorge Diaz, who plays Hector, the catalyst for which much of the movie is filmed (through his handheld camcorder) spoke of what a film casted entirely of Latino means to the industry.
"It shows other studios that stories can be told, no matter what ethnicity the characters are, that you can relate to them. And you can have a great time watching it, and we don't have to be playing like gardners or maids or inmates." Gabrielle Walsh, who plays Marisol, echoed Diaz's thoughts: "It shows that minorities don't have to play their stereotype. We can relate to so many different cultures and audiences."
Andrew Jacobs, who plays the possessed Jesse, looks nothing like his innocent schoolboy character in the flesh. Covered heard to toe in tattoos (including three neck tats, one of which is a portrait of Marilyn Monroe), wearing sweatpants and with a scabbed head wound to boot, it took two and a half hours to transform Jacobs into clean cut Jesse.
"I'm supposed to play this kid who goes from being an innocent to this demonic person," Jacobs said. "I wasn't acting before this [film], so I thought, 'I got some tattoos, maybe I can play some gangster roles.' I thought they would never book me for a Paramount film."
But booking Jacobs was one of the smaller risks the studio took on in this film. As director Landon said, "There's going to be franchise fatigue, and there's going to be people who think it's just a cash grab, and you know I can't speak for the studio... but the fact that the studio said yes to a spinoff, said yes to a Latino cast... nobody's done this. No one's made a big, franchise genre movie with an all Latin cast, and said 'Go for it! We're going to give you the same support and the same money that we have in every other movie that we've made in this franchise,'" he said. "So for that, Paramount deserves a big pat on the back for allowing us to be brave and try something different."
According to studio estimates on Sunday, the film grossed $18.2 million in box office sales in its first weekend, an indicator that the studio's "risk" may be paying off.
"I'm hoping this movie has earned us a little more credit and has won people back, because I think Paranormal 4, for lack of a better term, pissed a lot of people off, and understandably so. So a big objective was to make a movie that was really satisfying for people. We are five movies into a franchise people thought wouldn't get past one."