The Paranormal Activity Trilogy
By Jessica Shear
The content of this article includes key plot points
for the Paranormal Activity movies.
READ ON… but with one eye closed!
There are two fairly common occurrences in life – (1) Having an imaginary friend or two during childhood and (2) when committing to a guy or girl, we will likely need to deal with their witch of a mother.
It’s a drastic over-simplification to sum up “Paranormal Activity III” with that opening paragraph, but there you have it. Add “Paranormal Activity” and “Paranormal Activity II” to the cauldron, and what was once clear as mud, becomes a web of before and after, flashback and fill in the blank… with several middle years yet to be shared with viewing audiences.
The Paranormal Activity franchise does what “Blair Witch Project” did back in the 1990s, only more successfully given the increase in Internet marketing opportunities during the last 15 years. All these films present a paranormal experience in pseudo-documentary form, as filmed by story participants, leaving some viewers asking, “Did this really happen?”
The knowledge that fiction is at work in these movies does little to stymie excitement and anticipation by followers of the paranormal, giving way to a plethora of shows with paranormal investigators at the helm, like “Paranormal State”, “Ghost Hunters”, “Haunted”, and the genuinely unique Internet TV series that doesn’t take itself too seriously, L.A. Paranormal (“where even the demons have a sense of humor”).
L.A. Paranormal – Extreme Tales of Paranormal Adventure: Part 1
There’s no denying the voyeuristic appeal of watching others experience terror, while hoping to experience a bit of it second-hand. That seems to be where audiences are split over these movies. Either they scare you, or you say, “That’s 90 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.”
Made for an estimated $15,000, “Paranormal Activity” opened in 2007 and has since grossed approximately $194,000,000. The budget for PA II jumped to $3,000,000, and PA III was made with $5,000,000, grossing $104,000,000 in barely over two months, illustrating just how much producers and audiences are willing to invest in fear.
I’d say, let’s start at the beginning, but I’m still not sure we’ve been shown the beginning. So, let’s start with the first installment of the Paranormal Activity movies and go from there.
“Paranormal Activity” follows several weeks in the lives of Katie and Micah, a young, yet-to-be-married couple. Starting and ending with video-taped footage, we learn that strange, seemingly paranormal activities began to occur almost immediately after the couple moves into their new home. Katie confesses that she’s had similar experiences throughout her life, and she believes whatever it is has followed her; Micah films their lives in an attempt to capture something on tape and, well… he succeeds.
From swinging light fixtures and demonic footprints tracked through powder sprinkled on the ground to capture movement, to the effective use of time-lapse filming showing a seemingly possessed Katie standing over Micah, simply watching him sleep for hours and hours, the movie often succeeds in spooking the audience. Footage of the invisible demonic force lifting bed sheets off Katie as she sleeps conveys her vulnerability, and images of her being dragged out of bed by her legs demonstrates that she’s not dealing with any Casper, and this demon digs violence.
The general consensus is that the ending of the first PA movie is still the most frightening moment of all the films to date. After going downstairs in the middle of the night, Katie screams as if being attacked (arguably one of the best screams in cinematic history). Micah runs downstairs… and then, even more ominous than Katie’s blood-curdling sounds of moments before is the absolute silence that follows. With the video camera trained on the bedroom and its door, the audience can only sit and wonder what’s coming, as menacing, heavy footsteps make their way slowly up the stairs. Then, filling the frame, Micah’s body is tossed like a rag doll from the door into the lens of the camera… followed by Katie, entering the room covered in blood. Posture contorted – clearly possessed by the demon – she sniffs Micah’s dead body and peers into the lens of the video camera.
If it weren’t for the need to link the films together, ending there would have had the greatest impact. But it doesn’t end there. Demon Katie goes to her sister’s house, kills Kristi and her brother-in-law, and takes their infant son, Hunter. (Here we have one of several vital links within the trilogy).
L.A. Paranormal – Extreme Tales of Paranormal Adventure: Part 2
Enter “Paranormal Activity II”, which answers some questions, while creating even more.
PA II travels back in time to 2005 and focuses primarily on Katie’s younger sister, Kristi. Again using video footage, the movie captures the experiences of Kristi and husband, Dan, starting with the birth of their son, Hunter. Footage continues with the introduction of security cameras after a supposed break-in, in which the home was ransacked, but the only item missing is a necklace given to Katie by Kristi. (If you guessed the missing necklace is also a missing link between the movies… ding, ding, ding – we have a winner!)
Security cameras, both inside and outside the house, capture a variety of paranormal activity, ranging from the impish to the downright evil. Baby Hunter seems to be the focal point of demonic attention in PAII, and here we have another link between the movies. Hunter is the first-born male child in Katie and Kristi’s family since the 1930s. Don’t get it? Well, it turns out that making a deal with the devil often involves swapping a first-born male child for wealth and power. Now we’re getting somewhere… kind of.
Katie makes an appearance in PAII, explaining to her sister that the more they talk about what’s going on in Kristi’s house and the (still vague) paranormal experiences of their childhood, the greater the likelihood of increased demonic activity. (Voila! Another link.)
The movie has a few startling moments when kitchen drawers and cabinets are flung open and slammed shut, and when general havoc takes place. But the most common scare tactic in PAII seems to be the invisible demonic force dragging victims out of doors, down stairs and generally being a brute. One such instance involves Kristi, who, like sister Katie at the end of the first film, ultimately becomes possessed by the demon and guards over baby Hunter, who is now clearly the ultimate prize.
So, if Kristi is possessed in a movie taking place in 2005, how do we see her “normal” in the first PA film, which takes place after the fact? A little switcharoo is made, in which husband Dan transfers the demon from his wife to his sister-in-law – freeing his son from the demon’s clutch and leaving Kristi with no memory of her own possession. This is the point at which the trilogy begins in PA… with the demon comfortably attached to Katie, courtesy of her thoughtful brother-in-law.
“Paranormal Activity III” attempts to explain how the whole shebang started for the sisters, giving some focus to what the sisters seemed unable or unwilling to fully recall in the first two movies.
The year is 1988. Kristi is around 5 and Katie about 9. Added to the cast of characters is mother, Julie, and her live-in boyfriend, Dennis who is (surprise, surprise) a videographer working out of their garage. Dennis sets up video cameras after little Kristi’s imaginary friend, Toby, begins to make his presence known. At first, it’s a fun project but the fun turns freaky, when the devilish “imaginary friend” targets the babysitter, which Dennis witnesses while reviewing video footage.
There are several links to the previous two movies in PAIII – including the discovery of a picture depicting a coven of witches, in which a familiar symbol appears. Remember the missing necklace from PAII? Yep… it bore the same symbol. Turns out, these lovely ladies made a pact with the devil in 1930. Imagine that. Does “first born male child” ring a bell?
Suffice it to say, the whole family ultimately becomes believers in Toby’s existence, realizing Toby is a force to be reckoned with and not imaginary in the least.
In an attempt to escape the demonic force, the family is sent running to Grandma Lois’s house, who the audience met earlier when she questioned Julie’s decision not to have more children. Two daughters… why not a third kid and try for a son? (See what I did there? Connecting some dots… coven, deal with devil, Grandma wanting a grandson, missing necklace with coven’s symbol, demonic force throughout Katie and Kristi’s lives, first born male child Hunter abducted at the end of PA, the focus of demonic attention in PA II and the embodiment of the son Lois hoped for from Julie in PAIII.
The conclusion of PAIII brings an appearance by the coven, the demise of Dennis and I’m fairly certain it is curtains for Julie as well. With “Toby” in tow, young Katie and Kristi appear to begin their lives with witchy Grandma Lois.
Although PAIII doesn’t have the creep factor of the first PA movie, it is more frightening than PAII, and bodes well for the next installment, due in theaters October 2012. Let’s hope the creators have figured out that the demon is far more frightening than the coven, and that what remains unseen is more conducive to nightmares than anything they can conjure up with make-up and costumes.
Unlike teen slasher films where danger can be averted if dark rooms are avoided, the Paranormal Activity trilogy works by exploiting a fear that can’t be shaken; demons are like bad debt, you can run… but you can’t hide!
L.A. Paranormal – Exorcising Your Demons
Raised in both the DC Metro Area and West Africa, Jessica Shear pulls from life experience in her quest to become one of the great essayists of her time. Failing that, she finds solace in riding her motorcycle and in playing with her cats and boyfriend – all requiring patience, a keen eye for obstacles and the ability to speak sweetly and slowly. A freelance writer for 15 years, Jessica’s work can be found online via Demand Media, in marketing collateral of all kinds, in Underwired, CommonGround and Hype in Type magazines…and filling her parents’ junk drawers.