Oren Peli, the horror filmmaker who made Paranormal Activity into an international success on just a $15,000 budget, sounded positively giddy on the phone from New Zealand as he described his latest effort to scare the wits out of the world.
“We think this is pretty special, truly groundbreaking, in fact,” Peli said. “So yes, people should be nervous.”
Peli used low-quality video images in suburban settings to create a global horror hit (totaling $193 million in box office) with 2007’s Paranormal Activity, the ghost story that had the urgency of surveillance footage and the jarring aura of a nanny-cam nightmare. (The movie spawned a franchise of a total six films; Peli wrote and produced all of them but only directed the first one.)
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This time around, Peli has taken supernatural storytelling a step closer to the world where the audience lives. With his new interactive game Night Terrors: Bloody Mary, the Israeli-American producer aims to make any smart phone the equivalent of a handheld haunted house.
The game uses filmed images, sound effects, lights, handset vibrations, music, calls and text messages to weave a story not intended for the meek of heart. The game also utilizes a sonar functionality that allows the game to “see and remember” the floorplan for the surroundings where players are located during the gameplay. That adds an element of eerie specificity to the storytelling — when a player is, say, standing in front of a bathroom mirror or in a doorway, the game can perceive that and weave the information into the experience.
Peli was reluctant to share too many details about the story, but he did say it is rooted in the Bloody Mary legend. “It’s something ingrained in our culture everybody has either played the game or knows the ritual as something familiar,” he said. “And with this game you get a chance to ‘play’ the game for real. Or in a way, at least, that feels real.”
The app-loaded game is activated when the phone hears someone say “Bloody Mary” three times. The game presents entities “on the other side” of death including the title character and her minions, who communicate in a variety of ways including voicemail messages (via pre-recorded audio files).
The game will be offered for the first week with about 30 minutes of story interaction, but that will jump with a second-week supplement that will take the entire experience up to about 75 minutes of potential content. The game goes on sale Friday and will cost $2.99, and Peli was emphatic that it is a one-time charge and that the game won’t attempt to “bleed” fans with extra charges.
“That mythology is the central hook of the story and [the project] in a cool way marries gameplay and filmmaking,” Peli said. “It’s like Choose-Your-Own-Adventure in that you, as the player, are the central character and you make decisions as you go along, but then the game shows you footage of characters that you interact with and they have full make-up, props and costumes and visual effects just like we would use on a film set.”
Peli said the unique appeal of the new game is that it traps players in their own home, walking in the dark while interacting with a story that “sees” them in a way that makes the experience one that is tailored to every player and their surroundings. Pelli said he hopes the game will usher in a new era of frazzled fans who find it harder and harder to locate any place that feels like safe ground.
Said Peli: “After people watched Jaws they said they were never going to go into the ocean again. After people watched Pyscho they said they were too scared to take showers. After Blair Witch Project people didn’t want to go camping anymore. And with Paranormal Activity one of the things that people said was that it was set in an average home so people felt like they weren’t even safe at home in their bedrooms. Now, though, where will people go?”
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