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The Super-normal Story of Paranormal Activity

Posted by msunyata on Monday, January 23, 2012

[Beware of story spoilers for the Paranormal Activity movie franchise in the following article!]

The first surprise of Paranormal Activity 2 – well, beside from its very existence, which invoked truly horrifying flashbacks to Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 – was its premise.  Rather than taking the painfully easy and decidedly Hollywood route of simply following a brand-new couple being haunted by a brand-new demon, the filmmakers opted to instead utilize what toys were left them in original writer/director Oren Peli’s sandbox, keeping the paranormal activities in the same family.  It was a small but deft touch.

The second surprise was its status of being a prequel, despite the sequel nature of its title.  The vast majority of the film was merely set-up to the original, giving the audience an explanation for Micah’s burgeoning videography zeal, Katie’s (admittedly minimal) off-screen activities, and, most importantly of all, the origin of Katie and sister Kristi’s demonic predilections.  Items that needed absolutely no backstory were given a rather enjoyable, if still somewhat limited or predictable, one – and it worked.

 

Building Upon the Sequel

And, indeed, this is Paranormal Activity 2's ultimate surprise:  it actually made a story out of the original entry’s events, and then it expounded and expanded upon them.  That the prequel/sequel amalgam didn’t hold a candle to its progenitor’s quality (not that any found-footage genre film is the paragon of cinematic experiences, at least in terms of narrative) actually ended up not mattering too terribly much.  Paramount had a real, true-blue series on its hands.  The only question at the end of 2010 was where the studio was going to take it.

It turns out the direction was even further in the past, making Paranormal Activity 3 all of a prequel and nothing of a sequel.  Although the backstory given here, 18 years before either of the first two installments, is nowhere near as (directly) pressing as the previous film’s, it does further develop the – no pun intended – historical backdrop of the franchise, providing more context than actual explanation.  It ended up being a fun little detour, but it was, obviously, a detour nonetheless.

(The movie still managed to do something that neither George Lucas nor Ronald D. Moore has yet to [fully] grasp:  by splicing new scenes with pre-existent footage from the series’s three different time periods, the filmmakers, whether planned or not, managed to convey the impression of one seamless, multi-faceted story.  And all this with Akiva Goldsman – a malicious, non-human entity in his own right – as exec producer, to boot.)

 

Where to Go With Number Four

Which is why Paranormal Activity 4 holds the biggest amount of potential in the franchise to date, despite the crazily narrow limitations of the found-footage format and the highly repetitive elements of its formula.  Although it was announced nearly a month ago, nothing is known of the film beyond its now-traditional release date of October.  Think of this, then, as a fanboy’s dream scenario of how the latest sequel – yes, the assumption is that it will be a sequel – will continue the Paranormal mythos (but not necessarily put a cap on it, as next fall will require yet another installment to fill Paramount’s purse, but of course).

The second movie attempted to provide a variation on the first-person, handheld-camera perspective of the original by intercutting it with a series of security cameras placed strategically throughout Kristi’s home.  (Paranormal Activity 3 abandoned the concept and went full-throttle with its retro, VHS camcorder conceit.)  The only real avenue left unexplored is that of a camera crew, hoisting multiple cameras of multiple makes and multiple levels of mobility, allowing, for the first time in the series’s history, the ability to venture out into several locations instead of just one (or two, in PA3's case), and to even do so simultaneously.

This formatting framework jives perfectly with the most recent (chronologically speaking) narrative event:  a possessed Katie on the loose with her infant nephew, Hunter.  Given that Ali, Hunter’s half-sister, survives the ordeal and knows much, if not all, of her step-mother’s familial troubles with non-corporeal entities, she’s in the perfect position to track down her sibling and somehow attempt to put an end to the generations-long haunting.  Throw in the involvement of some paranormal investigators – maybe even the Ghost Hunters themselves, if Paramount wants to be silly and partner with NBC Universal – and perhaps jump forward four years to the present day (providing a more believable age for the teenage Ali), and a somewhat compelling premise is cobbled together.

Then again, there’s still room for yet more prequels – all the way back to the 18th century, in fact, when Katie’s family coven could have been first founded and plenty of further tie-in opportunities exist with the Blair Witch, if Paramount wants to be even sillier and team up with Lions Gate.

 

[Marc N. Kleinhenz has written about the gaming industry for over a dozen sites, including Gamasutra, IGN, and TotalPlayStation, where he was features editor.  He co-hosts the Airship Travelogues podcast for Nintendojo and has had his creative writing published through Alterna Comics, Death Head Grin, and Smashed Cat magazine, among others.]

Jakester
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Posted: 8 years 10 weeks ago

Holy crap! I find myself agreeing with msunyata. PA 4 obviously needs to be a sequel. 

Richard Gozinya, Harold Snatch and Wilbur Jizz. Together we are the law firm Gozinya, Snatch and Jizz.
msunyata
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Posted: 8 years 10 weeks ago

Don't worry, my main man -- wait until you read my next article.  :)

msunyata
The Swollen Goi...
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Posted: 8 years 10 weeks ago

There's a Corona-wide ban on the phrase "no pun intended." 

msunyata
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Posted: 8 years 10 weeks ago

Fine -- no mittens intended.

msunyata
msunyata
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Posts: 63
Posted: 8 years 10 weeks ago

After thinking about this overnight -- yes, I have a problem -- the direction the filmmakers will probably take the new movie will be Paranormal Activity 3, Part II, showing all the stuff that they didn't get around to in the previous installment:  the burning down of the house, the marriage ceremony (or whatever it was) between Kristi and the demon, and Michael Jackson music vidoes.

Oh, well.  At least I can recycle this article for Paranormal Activity 5 next year.

msunyata