Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Halloween Horror Marathon: Paranormal Activity Franchise Breakdown

Having gone back and reread my reviews for Paranormal Activity and its sequels, I noticed that I prefaced every review by saying that my initial screening of Paranormal Activity marks the scariest movie-going experience I’ve ever had. I suppose I’ve mentioned that year after year because, well, it’s true.

Paranormal Activity is a great film. Not a great horror film, but a great film period. Does watching it at home with the afternoon sun pouring in lessen its fright? Of course. But does that take away from the film’s overall impact? Not in the slightest.

And here’s where things get tricky.

I love Paranormal Activity, and I love the boldness of its preliminary marketing campaign. Computer programmer Oren Peli had an idea for a ghost flick, shelled out a few grand to film it, then spent years getting it to theaters. I can’t imagine how many producers, theater owners and members of the general public encouraged him to give the hell up. But he persisted, resulting in an original, terrifying film.
And here’s where the delicate balance comes into play: I love what Paranormal Activity did, and how it did it, but I hate what it caused. It seems that every few weeks, a new found footage flick is released in theaters. Sometimes the gimmick works (I’m a huge proponent of this year’s V/H/S), most of the time, it doesn’t (Project X, The Devil Inside, Apollo 18… you get it).

I mention all this because Paranormal Activity’s three sequels justifiably fall into that latter category – they are noticeably inferior found footage flicks, spawned from the movie that singlehandedly resurged the genre.

Christ, I haven’t even talked about the movie. Sorry. PA4 picks up five years after PA2 concluded (PA3, you may recall, was technically an ‘80s-set prequel). Fifteen-year-old Alex (Kathryn Newton) is a little miffed when the creepy kid next door is invited to stay at her house for a few days. His mother was suspiciously dragged off to the hospital, and with no family around, Alex’s parents take young Robbie in without batting an eye. Needless to say, once Robbie shows up, shit starts to go down.
The unseen entity (who we learned from PA3 is to be called Toby) that has terrorized Katie Featherston and her family for years is now (for reasons I won’t mention) taking over Alex’s life. Parts 2-4 of this franchise depend entirely on the frights delivered in the final 10 minutes of the respective films. And to be honest, I have yet to be let down by any of these films’ denouements. They legitimately accomplish precisely what they hope to. The problem is the build up. With each passing film, the 75 some odd minutes leading up to the end become increasingly more tired. Sure, the filmmakers attempt to deliver fresh shocks in fresh ways (succeeding occasionally), but the entire time I sat watching PA4, the notion of, The jig is up, never left my mind.

As it stands now, the films of the Paranormal Activity franchise have cost just over $13 million to produce, and have netted nearly 44 times that. A few days after PA4 hit theaters, a part 5 was announced. Of course it was. And next year we’ll hear about a part 6, and a part 7…

The jig is only up for us viewers. The producers have plenty more to cash in on. You can expect many more of these.

Paranormal Activity: A
Paranormal Activity 2: B
Paranormal Activity 3: C
Paranormal Activity 4: D+


  1. These films depend heavily on the environment viewed in in my opinion.
    I saw the first one in a packed cinema with a few friends, and everyone in the whole room was scared stiff, you couldn't hear a sound. The only time this tension was broken was when a girl ran out crying followed by her boyfriend yelling her name. People were screaming when the door first moved, and it just made the film really effective at scaring you shitless (I stalled my car twice after leaving the cinema and my friends didn't even give me shit, that's how nervous we were all made by it). A couple of my other friends saw it the day after and said everyone in the cinema was laughing and it made the film fall flat.

    I saw the 2nd one with 2 friends in his house and we were just laughing at it, and I thought it was an appalling film because of this.

    Fair dues to them for finding a simple and affordable concept which they can continuously repackage, but after seeing the 2nd one I'm not touching this franchise again.

    1. First off, I couldn't agree more with you: these movies are only as good as the environment in which they are viewed in. Secondly, my PA watching experience was damn near identical to yours. Everyone was into it, and a girl had to be escorted out by her boyfriend because she was so freaked. Epic.

      I don't blame you for not going near any of those movies again. They offer next to nothing.

  2. Wow. That's a steady decline in the series, isn't it? :) I haven't seen any of these, but I might check out the first two eventually.

    1. Ha, yeah it is, for sure. Honestly, if I were you, I'd just watch the first one. And in a very dark, very controlled setting. It'll freak you the fuck out.

  3. I love the series.

    Amazingly my grades have gone:
    1: B+
    2: B
    3: A-
    4: A-


    I thought the third was widely regarded as the best, amazing how there can be so many differing opinions. Every time Katie came on the screen I got chills. Good review mate, I can see why many feel it's on it's decline. Luckily for me, the last two have been my favorites!

    1. Yeah man, like I said on your blog, it is definitely cool that you dig them so much. I just feel like the 3rd and 4th were so dependent on the frights of their final 10 minutes, whereas the first one was horrifying throughout. But oh well!

  4. Like you I loved Paranormal Activity. Like you I thought it was a terrific film. Like you I thought the sequels (those I've seen - parts 2 and 3) lacked the quality of the first film.

    I have this strange fascination with found-footage films - in general I love the concept, yet, again in general, most of these films are complete rubbish. The sequels do all the things I've like them to do but the basis for a good story isn't there. The first film had it, the second film was still pretty good but the third film was devoid of inspiration. I'll see PA4 because I love the concept but I'm guessing I'll have a similar overall reaction to it as you.

    1. Sounds like we are in complete agreement here, and I'm right with you, I actually love the concept behind found footage flicks. And if they are done well, then my god, do they work.

      The first PA ranks with Blair Witch Project, in my opinion. Perfectly dreadful.

  5. Absolutely. PA 1 was the best!!