Paranormal Activity “Trilogy” (Film Review)

**Obligatory Spoiler Warning**

March 2008

I was sitting at my desk – a tucked-away intern cubby-hole at the offices of Evolution Entertainment and Twisted Pictures – engrossed in my latest script coverage of a horror script that the associate producer told me to “have no mercy on”. The writers’ strike just ended and work was starting to flow back into the office. The literary managers started talking loudly on the phones again, ambivalent to the way sound carried their voices. My coverage assignments tripled. The managers would sometimes distract me with their commentary on lengthening a sex scene in a particular script. (*sigh* Always compensating.)

In the middle of my hack and slash affair with a less-than mediocre script, one of the assistants hovered over me and dropped a DVD encased in a transparent cover with blue backing onto my script-covered desk. The DVD itself was a burned copy, no special designs other than its reflective silver facing and brand name etched into the top, and the words “Paranormal Activity” written in black permanent marker. I turned to the assistant. “What’s this?” He put his hands in his pockets and shrugged. “Apparently some really scary horror movie. Blair Witch style, but with a better camera. I haven’t seen it. Watch it and tell me what you think.” That was all the information I received.

My stomach full and the 101 traffic fatigue faded, I curled up with a good blanket in the dark in preparation for what was supposed to be a scary movie. I expected to hate it. I expected it to be cheesy. I expected it to be a Blair Witch knock-off that would leave me in a sour mood, grumbling my way to sleep, wanting those two hours of my life back for something more productive. Then the first image of the film appeared: We would like to thank the San Diego Police Department for releasing this footage. Instant hook.

The footage itself wasn’t spectacular, but it had golden moments. For example, the footprints appearing in the white powder next to Katie and Micah’s bed. I prefer the original ending of Katie stabbing Micah to death and subsequently being shot by the police over the canonical ending, but when you score a distribution deal for your $15,000 movie, you are given the funds to have a bit more fun with your own work, which in turn destroyed the magic of the film. I do not scare easily, especially with films like “Paranormal Activity”, however, the situation in which I was presented the film to watch made me bite my nails in tension. I knew nothing of where the film came from and it was presented as a true story, which in turn left me with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach after Katie and Micah’s picture faded to black in place of the usual rolling credits. I returned to my internship the following day raving about how good the film was.

A one year-long massive marketing campaign later, “Paranormal Activity” was released in theaters. I realized I was a guinea pig, a perfect fit into the demographic at which the film was marketed towards, (well, maybe not so perfect; I’m not the type to curl up with the boyfriend during a scary movie and have him “protect me” from the fake monsters on-screen. It’s usually the other way around.) The magic in which I experienced it on that random March night was gone because of the marketing campaign. It was clear that “Paranormal Activity” was not a true story, and it was so much better as a true story. I latched onto the excruciating dull moments of nothing, waiting for something to happen, with annoyance. Katie’s shrill voice repeating “MICAH, MICAH!” over and over again did nothing to lessen the assault on my ear drums, so desperate for sounds of something…paranormal.

October 2011

I reluctantly agreed to watch “Paranormal Activity 3” in theaters with a friend of mine. He bought the tickets. I brought my “I can’t believe I’m going back on my promise to not see anymore Hollywood sequels” attitude. However, even though I had not seen PA2 yet, the idea of the second and third installments as chronological prequels intrigued me from a screenwriting perspective. How were the writers going to link all three together and were they going to leave any plot holes?

While I applaud PA2 for its excellent use of f-ed up moments better than one and three combined, the writers left some seriously hot questions burning plot holes in my pockets. Lets start from three on, shall we? Even though the films were released in reverse order, they should be analyzed in actual chronological order.

The witches’ coven and Kristi’s ambiguous relationship with demon Toby are the main structural points in PA3. While investigating the phenomena, Randy comes across the story of a witches’ coven, who inexplicably make deals with demons to brainwash young girls into giving birth to sons later in their lives. The climax of the film reveals that Julie’s mother is part of that creepy witch coven, hell-bent on eliminating Julie and Dennis from this plane of existence, and brainwashing Katie and Kristi. All this male-centric focus begs the question, who is going to knock these girls up, and when? Why is the grandmother a part of this coven? It appears that Kristi made some deal with Toby that possibly bonded her as his bride, and her grandmother and the rest of her coven played some role in brainwashing her…somehow. This end portion of the film is so ambiguous that it’s hard to figure out any discernible plot. Something isn’t scary unless it has rhyme and reason to it, and leaving it “open to interpretation” is just a cop-out. It explains why those creepy things are happening to the family, but it gives no motive to the witches. A tormenting demon is more believable than a tormenting coven of witches that summons demons.

PA2 explores the idea of a human making a deal with the devil to gain power, wealth, etc, and the devil coming back to claim a family’s first-born son as payment. Ali, the daughter, lets curiosity drive her into exploring this idea and discovers that no male has been born in Katie and Kristi’s family line since their great-great-grandmother was alive. (Given the girls’ ages during this film, their great-great-grandmother would have been alive prior to the 1930’s.) This means that Hunter is the first-born male in a long time of women. This calls back to the coven in PA3, highlighting why the grandmother was so insistent on her daughter having a son. Not only do both films fail to give a clear explanation as to why Hunter is offered up to the demonic sacrificial altar-of-doom, but it also confuses further in terms of which plot line is the correct one.; continuity is lacking. The closest explanation could be that the witches’ coven made a deal with the devil to gain unlimited power, but the grandmother would have had to made the deal alone since it is her grandson that is next in line to become baby food, and not the kind you feed to a baby, unless the other witches are casting their baby nets far and wide among their families. (I wonder if demons make human babies taste like carrots and peas for their demon babies.)

The most glaring plot hole of them all: THE FIRE. PA1 and PA2 both reference a fire destroying Katie and Kristi’s childhood home. There was no massive fire in PA3. The only viable explanation is one that involves brainwashing Katie and Kristi as children to believe that their mother died in a fire that consumed their childhood home, explaining why they were raised by their grandmother, and why Katie eventually becomes a possessed baby-snatcher. Is this an explanation given in the film? No. It is merely one my detail-orientated brain came up with after trying to sew the holes back together. The idea of a fire was a prominent focus of PA1 after Katie finds a picture from the 1980’s in her attic, without any explanation as to how it got there because, according to Katie, they “lost everything.” Kristi finds another photo in PA2, assumed destroyed, but this was just a casual insertion of dialogue as a call-back to PA1. All this build up points to a big fire in PA3, right? No. Unless you count the witches’ bonfire on the lawn. Makes you want to roast marshmallows and hotdogs, doesn’t it?

PA1 works for best for a simple and consistent plot line. Its sole focus is on the unknown, the invisible tormenting the living, something we can all relate to, whether we have experienced a haunting or an emotional haunting. PA1 is a stand alone film that does not require any outside explanation of the plot.

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