/Film Interview: Christopher Landon Breaks Down ‘Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones’ Ending, Talks Franchise Mythology, ‘Chronicle’ Influence
Posted on Tuesday, January 7th, 2014 by Germain Lussier
For some, the best parts of the Paranormal Activity franchise are the tension and scares. For others, it’s the mythology and mystery that deepens with every film. The latest entry, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, has all those elements. It marks the first film in the franchise to go strictly handheld and really play with spaces outside of the house. Then it ends on an event so shocking, fans will be discussing it for a long time.
The architect behind it all is Christopher Landon. He wrote the second, third and fourth films before writing and directing The Marked Ones, which tells the spin-off story of a recent high school graduate who is possessed by a demon. In our interview, we talked about the decision to change the aesthetic of the franchise, how the editor plays into an overall consistency, potential comparisons to the film Chronicle, and more.
But most importantly, Landon broke down every story strand potentially changed by the shocking ending and told us whether they would be important, or not, in the upcoming movies. Read the full interview below.
/Film: Paranormal Activity, which you’ve been involved with for a while now, has always been about the locked camera. When was the decision made that The Marked Ones would be handheld found footage?
Christopher Landon: That decision was made when [Paranormal Activity] 4 came out. I felt that we had done the static thing. We had milked it for all it was worth so to speak. It’s funny ’cause when we make these movies, sometimes we would be in the editing room and we would see stuff and we would say ‘Oh, we need a handheld scene. We need something that brings a little more energy to it,’ because if you stay on something static too long, it just really does start to get kind of dull.
And for me I wanted this movie, apart from a shift in location and tone and all of those other elements that are different here, I really wanted this movie to have more energy. And I felt that just being handheld would give us that. And because we weren’t telling a story through security cameras or laptop cameras and all that stuff, you really didn’t have much of a choice but to really be handheld. And how often are people really gonna put their camera down and let it run and run and run? So really the story kind of dictated ultimately how handheld the movie needed to be.
And how did that open up creatively what you guys could do?
You know, what was really fun about the static camera in the other movies was, basically, we would present this sort of really big canvas to the audience and part of the thrill and the fun of those movies was that your eyes were darting around the frame trying to see where the thing was gonna happen. And I think that created a lot of tension. But here, it allowed us to do different kinds of gags and different kinds of set pieces because we were so mobile. But I think a bigger thing for me was the ability to be out of a house. To be outside. We were able to do things in this movie that we never did before. And a good example of that is the basketball court scene with Hector and Jesse when they get mugged, because we never could have done that in a house. I mean, we had this giant crane that was there to in order to achieve the stunts that we were doing. So it was that kind of stuff that I thought was really fun.
Were you at all worried you’d alienate fans coming to see Paranormal Activity one way and giving them something so different? Do you guys ever discuss that?
No, and I think that’s because when we set out to make this movie, we really wanted it to be its own thing. We wanted it to be a standalone movie. Even if you hadn’t really seen the other movies, although we reference the other movies in part of it, we still wanted it to live and die on its own merits. So I don’t think we felt beholden to any of that or chained to it. We just really wanted to do something different and make it feel fresh. And I was pretty certain we weren’t going to alienate fans as long as we were doing our jobs right. And I hope that we did. So no, I mean, we were all jonesing to get out of the box. And that was really the spirit of what we were doing.
And did you guys think about people eventually making comparisons [Josh Trank's] Chronicle here? ‘Cause lots of this movie feels like that when they’re having fun, though it’s sort of subversive too because we know what it actually is.
Yeah. Right. Exactly. You know it’s funny though because the Chronicle thing has come up quite a bit. And I think it only comes up because it’s found footage. If it wasn’t found footage, then Chronicle would get compared to every other superhero movie. So because it was found footage, we all kind of get lumped into the same category.
But when we were making the movie, we really didn’t talk about Chronicle. We talked about the fact this was a very organic extension of the story and what I knew was that I wanted, when Jesse started to observe signs of his early possession, that they presented themselves in ways that looked really positive. That he, as a character, is kind of coming from the hood and kind of being in this world, he’s had more challenges. Life is different. And we wanted the manifestation of this possession to really seem like a blessing.
Because that allowed us to have fun moments that ultimately would turn really dark. And so it was the contrast of it that I was more attracted to. And the Chronicle comparisons are kind of expected I guess and they’re certainly welcome because I thought that movie was great. But I think that contextually they’re so different.
You’re the writer/director, and you have producers Jason Blum and Oren Peli who help shepherd this franchise. Is there a Paranormal brain trust?
How does that all work?
What we do is we lock ourselves in an office and we duke it out. And it’s a really constructive process. I mean, everybody has a voice in the room. And it doesn’t even just stop there. Like when we make these movies and especially on The Marked Ones, you know, I think because it’s so collaborative in every possible way, everybody’s voice is welcome. And their input is welcome. And I certainly encouraged it from the actors, from other people on set. If anyone had an interesting or a crazy idea, I wanted to hear it because I’m just out to make the best movie that I can possibly make. And when we sit down and develop the stories and sort of go through our process, yeah, we really are just sort of like a little mini think tank.
Whose idea was it to end the movie the way it does? Because it’s pretty crazy and out there.
Where did that idea come from? Was there an impetus to send this standalone film in a different direction?
Yeah, yeah. I think, again, going back to the spirit of it, we liked the surprise of it all and the uniqueness of it. But it was also by design part of a bigger piece of the mythology. Part of that architecture. So really we’re teeing up things that are coming, especially in [Paranormal Activity] 5. So that was really the biggest part of it.
But it was too, one of the things I think we’ve always done in an interesting and clever way over the course of the franchise is we’ve been able to kind of go in and out of the story in different ways. To go forwards and backwards in time. And so while it was on the surface a batshit crazy idea, I also thought it was very organic to our franchise. Because we’ve done stuff that’s already kind of out there and different. And one thing we knew for certain was that we wanted to surprise people. And to take them to a place that they hadn’t seen before, but actually literally had not seen it. And so that was the fun of the moment really. But it is part of a bigger part of the story.
I want to ask you about that a little bit. I’m going to give you a statement, I’d like you to tell me what you can say, true or false or whatever.
[MAJOR SPOILERS BEGIN] Okay. This has set up a new timeline in the Paranormal universe.
There are now two bodies downstairs that will become an issue for things.
Hector’s footage is still in that house and will become an issue.
Katie will still go after Hunter.
This affects Ali [Rey] and how much she knows and can help now.
I can’t say.
Okay. The same people who lived or died in the others movies are now up in the air.
That is true.
[MAJOR SPOILER END] The Marked Ones ending begins the primary storyline of Paranormal Activity 5.
I can’t speak to that.
How important is it, when you’re creating this movie, to say, “we have to look ahead?”
We’ve always been looking at exactly where it was going. I can say this much. There is a very specific end goal and I’m hoping that we have enough time in the franchise to get there. ‘Cause we have a really big idea that’s at the finish line. But we need time to get there. So we’re hoping that the fans keep coming back and allow us to get them there.
And this ending is the beginning of that?
I think the beginning of that started in Oren’s movie. I don’t think Oren realized it then because I think when he made the first movie it really felt like a standalone movie. But then, like I said. when we started making [Paranormal Activity] 2 and we started to see the potential and the possibility there for a franchise, that’s when the real think tank element came into play and we really started to kind of throw out crazy ideas. And then ultimately over the course of the last couple movies really came to a really good, interesting place.
Will we learn answers to some of the burning questions about Katie, like where she is between movies? ‘Cause that was always one of my big things.
One of your big things is where is she between films?
Yeah, what has she been doing for years?
She’s hanging out at Starbucks.
I mean, where else do people just go. They go to Starbucks.
I just meant things like how she avoids authorities.
You know, yeah, I can’t. There’s stuff I wanna say, but…
I understand. One of the aesthetic choices that really struck me was there are a lot of abrupt cuts to black and they feel like almost errors. And they’re obviously not. Was that to sort of suggest that there’s another editor on top of this with the found footage?
No, I don’t think we’re trying to suggest that there is another editor. I mean, I think we’ve always operated from a place of there’s always been one editor who’s behind all of these. And not several. But, you know, what we always do is, we’re always presenting these movies like if someone were presenting a case to a jury. And what we’re showing the audience out of thousands and thousands of hours of footage are the essential pieces that tell the story. And that’s why even in the first act, you know, when you’re seeing moments that appear sort of frivolous, they’re not. Like there’s always information buried in them. But you have to pay attention.
Like the valedictorian comes back and is important.
Exactly. And so it’s always kind of there. The editor’s just chosen to show the essential parts. And so sometimes when we abruptly cut places it’s because we’ve seen what we needed to see.
And that’s kind of how we really do approach the process of making these. And also because we think, from a storytelling point of view, one of the few advantages of found footage is you can cut a scene in the middle of where a traditional movie would just keep going. We just stop and sometimes we jump into the scene way later than anybody else would in a traditional movie.
Can you talk about the idea of [the game] Simon, and how you executed that?
First and foremost, I was praying to God we would get clearance to use Simon at all. And thankfully, they were gracious and let us use it. And so what we did was our production guys rewired the Simon and I had a remote. And so I was actually Simon. I was controlling when the lights were turning on and off and how it was answering. And so part of the fun was while we did stuff that was very much scripted, we also did stuff that wasn’t. So the actors never knew what the answer was gonna be. And so they had to play on that. And so it was really, really, really fun. And so like when Jesse asks, ‘Are you my guardian angel?’ I think initially he thought the answer was gonna be ‘Yes.’ Because he thought that was part of the storyline. And then I said ‘No.’ And the way that it now plays in the film is great.
Last thing, what’s the timeline on your next film, Scouts Versus Zombies?
I’m casting right now and we’re supposed to start shooting the first week of May. I don’t have a release date, but we’ll see.
So it’s happening.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is in theaters now. Paranormal Activity 5 opens October 24.