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Is Paranormal Activity Based On A True Story?

No. With that out of the way, there are plenty of reasons why you might think that "Paranormal Activity" is based on a true story. If you're old enough, you probably remember the ads for the micro-budget blockbuster. The line between reality and fantasy was blurred before the film was even released. Night-vision footage showed grown adults in a movie theater, their eyes glued to the screen, holding one another for comfort or hiding their eyes behind outstretched fingers. Not since the spine-shivering Scary Skeletons incident of 1996 had anything seemed so inescapably spooky scary.

Less than helpfully, "Paranormal Activity" arrived right as "based on a true story" became the watchword of the low-budget horror thriller. Allegedly accurate recreations of supernatural events started popping up like weeds, with the "Haunting" series premiering not long after "Paranormal Activity," and the "Conjuring" franchise following close behind. Add a found footage aesthetic and a pair of unknowns in the lead roles, and the 2007 indie picture shows every sign of being a stark recounting of actual events.

Again, it's not, but it sure does seem like it could be.

Writer/director Oren Peli says that there isn't much reality in Paranormal Activity

One surefire way to spot a story without roots in the real world: Look for alternate endings. "Paranormal Activity" had three of the things — one original, and two slightly more sensationalized versions, shot after Paramount started throwing money at the project. "If I'd known exactly, you know, the entire plot of the movie in advance, the way it ended up in the final cut, it would have been easier to just shoot it that way the first time around," writer/director Oren Peli recalled in a 2012 interview with Slamdance. That's not the sort of difficulty that you tend to run into with true stories. Most biopics, for example, already have their third act locked in thanks to time's linear nature.

The argument could be made that the creative spark that started "Paranormal Activity" did start in the real world, though in a decidedly less haunted fashion than you might imagine. Asked about his inspiration when penning the script, Peli told the Guerilla Film Makers Pocketbook that the whole thing started with some empirically Normal Activity. "I moved to a new house and I started hearing noises at night," the filmmaker stated. "My first instinct wasn't that the house was haunted, but it did get me to think about what was going on. It led me to the idea of what if someone did think their house was haunted and wanted to prove or disprove it, so they set up a video camera."

To reiterate, "Paranormal Activity" is not based on a true story. That said, it's no excuse to stop combing through your home video footage for evidence of the murderous demonic spirit that's standing behind you right now.