There are films that are solid entries within a given genre, and then there are films that change a genre. Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity” which was originally released in October of 2007 at the Screamfest Film Festival, and received a wide release in October 2009 was one of those movies that changed the landscape of the horror genre forever.
The series now has four films, one being released every October. The filmmakers took a really cool approach to marketing this series. Instead of widely releasing the film, they let fans demand it and then would release the film in select theaters. When I found out it was released in Phoenix, and that general area, I had to see it. So, kudos to them for the way they marketed their product. The overall story has a very interesting timeline, in that they are not chronological by any means. In an attempt to not fully confuse the reader who has not seen this series, I will attempt to map out the timeline. The first film is the introduction to the story, the second film is both a prequel and a sequel to the first one, the story completely cradling that of the first film. The third film takes place about twenty years before the first two, and then the fourth film takes place after one and two. Okay, if your head is spinning, I can understand why. In my opinion the story is really well told, and takes an interesting approach to the overall timeline of a story. Let’s take a look at each film and what they entail in terms of the story, and the impact they have had on the horror genre.
The story opens in the home of Micah and Katie (boyfriend and girlfriend). Due to recent strange activity within their home, Micah decides he is going to have a camera recording at night in their bedroom, so that they he can then review the film and see for himself what is going on, if anything. He most definitely takes the perspective of skeptic, which really gets to Katie, as she knows that she is experiencing some unexplainable activity.
I love the way the film is made because it is all from the perspective of the video camera. This means that sometimes we get some careless shaking of the camera, and aren’t able to always get the angle we want, which dramatically increases the intensity of what the viewer is watching. It also means that we are subject to the emotions of the characters, because we only go where they dare go.
Night one of the filming starts on September 18, 2006, and we are given footage through October 11, 2006 during the course of the film. Slowly, we are given evidence from the perspective of the camera, that there are indeed strange happenings in the house. From doors opening and closing to Katie getting up in the middle of the night and standing over Micah for hours at a time, and loud noises coming from outside of the room, it is apparent that Katie isn’t imagining things.
Katie decides to hire a psychic to come over and get a read on the vibe of the house, and maybe shed some light on what is happening. After a couple of visits, he tells them that he can’t come any more, because there is a very strange feeling in the house, and he feels unwanted in that space. He refers them to a demonologist, whom they are never able to get in contact with.
At one point there is a noise in the attic and Micah goes to take a look. What he finds is a picture of Katie as a little girl. The picture is half burned. Katie hasn’t seen that picture for years, and is completely unsure of why it would all the sudden show up in her attic years later. She is clearly distressed over this finding. Micah becomes increasingly worried. He goes out and borrows a ouija board from someone, against Katie’s wishes. She does not want that influence in their house. They go out on a date, and we are left with the camera turned on in the living room overlooking the ouija board, which pieces begin to move. The board actually catches fire, and their is a design made on the board, that Micah takes a look at later that night. He is confused by what he is looking at. He performs research on the Internet regarding demons, and comes across a woman named Diane Mercer who was haunted by a demon in 1966 and who, through an exorcism actually dies. He shows Katie what he is finding, and is narrowing down options of what may be happening to Katie.
Katie becomes increasingly worse, and after her and Micah decide to leave the house because of what is happening, she goes to lay in bed, and says that everything will be all right, and that they should stay. That night, with the camera rolling, Katie leaves the bedroom, and goes downstairs. Micah is awoken by a blood-curdling scream coming from downstairs. Seeing that Katie is gone, he darts down the stairs to find her. All the sudden complete silence falls over the film, and we are left still in the room with the camera rolling. We can see the door open, but only see blackness. Then, very quickly we see Micah come shooting up through the door, mid-air, and is slammed into the wall and killed. Katie had a hold of him, and came flying up the stairs with him, killing her boyfriend. The camera falls to the ground and we are given a ground level angle. Katie is on all fours, and slowly turns and looks at the camera, her face clearly distorted. She then attacks the camera, and the film goes dead. We are informed before the credits that Micah’s body was discovered and that Katie’s whereabouts are unknown.
For me, this was the scariest in-theater experience I have ever had in my life. In fact it is the scariest experience I have ever had watching a movie. I didn’t realize how tense I was in the theater until the credits hit. My muscles were sore, and as I stood up, I realized that the flip flops I was wearing were completely covered in sweat. I went home, and was ghost white. I looked at myself in the mirror, and I looked sick. Yes, this film had that impact on me, and that’s kind of fun, in a sick way. I absolutely loved how this movie was filmed, and the intensity of scares that were included. For horror fans, this is an absolute must-see! Aside from “The Shining” which is my favorite horror movie of all time, this is right on top of the pile. Comparatively speaking, you can leave most other horror movies. What is even more great is that this film was made for approximately $15,00o!!! It goes to show that filmmakers absolutely do not need millions of dollars to get across to their viewers. This is the best film in the series, and should not be missed!
When the trailer was released for “Paranormal Activity 2”, my insides shook. I was still recovering from the first film, and it took me a little while to even watch the trailer. But when I did, I was instantly pulled in. The first film leaves you uneasy, because we don’t know what happened to Katie. So, my adventurous side came out, and I went and saw this movie with a friend. Yes, I did not dare go alone this time. Also, there were more than five people in the theater this time!
As mentioned before, this is both a prequel and a sequel to the first film. Let me explain. This film starts on August 7, 2006, a month before the first one starts, and goes through just past the ending of the first film (October 2006).
Here, we are introduced to Kristi, who is Katie’s sister. We follow Kristi and her husband (Daniel) and stepdaughter (Ali). There is also a very important character to the franchise that is introduced at the beginning of this film. Hunter is Kristi’s son (Hunter), whom she is coming home from the hospital with.
After their home is “broken into”, and their is furniture turned over, and everything is out of place throughout the house, they decide to install a surveillance system in the house to see what is going on. We also follow Ali are given footage that she is filming. What ensues is some unusual (or paranormal) activity such as was found in the first film. The housekeeper, Martine, and intensely religious individual lets the family know that there is a strange feeling in the house. She brings a rosarie and starts performing some religious blessings on the home, trying to cast out any bad spirits. This is happening against Daniel’s will, so much that he fires her.
We see some interactions with Kristi’s family, as well as with Katie and Micah who come over for a poolside barbecue and things of that nature. In this sense, there is good character development in that we get to know them as a family, and develop feelings for their safety. As will be the formula for this and the remaining two entries in this franchise so far, we are given the most important part of the story in the end of the film.
As the film draws to its end, Kristi becomes increasingly worse. She confronts Ali when she is trying to pick up a crying Hunter. Ali then contacts Daniel and lets him know what is going on, and that she is worried. Daniel comes home and wants to check on Kristi, but Ali tells him he cannot go upstairs, but that he should look at the footage she has collected. Daniel is fully bought in to what is happening, and calls Martine to come back and perform her religious practices on the house and on Kristi. Daniel tells Ali that they are to not talk about this with Kristi, since she will not remember what happened anyway. Daniel and Ali go to check on Kristi, and she is staring blankly ahead. Daniel nears her and is attacked. They run out of the room leaving Kristi behind. They find Hunter in the basement, and recover him.
We then cut ahead. Kristi is not aware of what happened, as was thought would happen. Ali is out of the house, and Daniel is watching TV. All of the sudden, we see Katie behind him in the hallway in her shorts and tank top, all bloody. We know by seeing Katie in this condition, that she has killed Micah and has made her way over to her sister’s house. She comes to Daniel behind the couch, and reaches over and snaps his neck. She then goes upstairs where her sister is taking care of Hunter. Kristi sees Katie, and is extremely worried. Katie rushes her, and throws Kristi against the wall, killing her. Hunter is crying. Katie picks him up, and slowly walks out of the room. We are informed that Katie and Hunter’s whereabouts are unknown. Then the credits roll.
I appreciated this entry in the series, all though it didn’t have quite the impact the first one had on me. This was largely due to the fact that I understood a little bit more about how they filmed, and the overall pace of the story. The ending of this film, however, really packed a punch. To see Katie standing in the hallway with an unaware Daniel watching TV was really intense. I didn’t realize she was standing there at first, because she is holding completely still. When I realized she was there, my heart stopped for a few seconds. The question that was begged at the end of this movie was what Hunter has to do with the story. Katie is obviously a key part of the demonic force, as she has been taken over, and used as a vehicle for moving forward what is happening to all of these people. This movie must be watched after the first, but that is part of the beauty of this series, is that each part adds more and more to the previous.
I was not the least bit apprehensive about watching the trailer for this film when it was released, because I was now fully engaged in the story, and ready for what was next. The anticipation really grew when the trailer revealed that this film would take us back to the beginning, when it all started. I went to see the film with my good friend (a different friend this time), and we had a good talk about it afterward.
Here, we take a big jump back in time. We go to 1988 and follow a young Katie and Kristi as well as their mother Julie, and her live-in boyfriend Dennis who runs a videography business.
The film starts with footage from the second film. Daniel and Kristi who are filming the damage done to their home in the beginning of the movie. They uncover some VHS tapes from the 1980’s when taking inventory on what is missing from their home. Then we cut to footage from 1988, and pick up the story of Katie and Kristi’s childhood.
Kristi talks to Dennis about her “imaginary friend” named Toby. She describes that she won’t be safe. Dennis is worried about what might be happening, so he sets up some cameras throughout the house that he usually uses for his videography business. He sets up one camera in the kitchen area on top of an oscillating fan, so that the camera can have a wide angle of what it is capturing.
We get a lot more of the same slow pace, but the intensity is always there, because something might happen. Dennis and Julie get a babysitter for the girls. She experiences some strange things while she is working on her homework, and when the two arrive back home from their date night, the babysitter quickly leaves. One of Dennis’ work associates, Randy, comes over to watch the girls one day, and while he is watching them, Katie wants to play “Bloody Mary” with him. So they go into the upstairs bathroom and turn off the lights with a camera turned on, and say “Bloody Mary” three times and wait. There is silence, and then all of the sudden Randy yells, and turns on the light. He has been scratched badly on his side, and is breathing heavily. He tells Katie that he is okay. And then there is a loud boom outside in the bedroom. Randy is freaked out but trying to calm down Katie. He opens the door, and furniture is being picked up by an unknown force. He closes the door and opens it again, to find the furniture all overturned. When Dennis returns home, Randy tells him he is leaving and not coming back. Dennis is unsure of what is causing this. Meanwhile, Kristi has been talking to her friend, Toby. At one point, Katie is drug into the toy closet, and the door is slammed shut. As these activities increase, Dennis and Julie decide to leave with the kids and go to Julie’s mom’s house so that they can get away. Here is where everything goes completely bad.
In the middle of the night, Dennis hears some strange sounds. He wakes up Julie and they go to see what is happening. We follow Dennis who sees a silhouette through a foggy glass pane in the kitchen area. Dennis moves forward through the house, he moves the camera up toward the stairs. He sees Julie at the top of the stairs, she is hovering in the air, and is thrown down, dead. Dennis is freaking out, and walks to the outside door. He is yelling for the girls, but there is no response. He goes outside, and opens a door to discover a group of women who stare back at him. He runs back in the house, and looks back. The women are moving toward him , all of them with a demonic, glazed-over look. He then discovers Kristi, and they go hide in a closet. There is some very loud booms outside the closet, in the house. Once they come out, they see Katie holding tightly to the stair railing, and kneeling down. Dennis nears her, and as soon as he touches her, she turns around, her face distorted, and a force throws Dennis on his back. Then the girls’ grandma walks in. She stares blankly at Dennis, who, when he tries to get up is thrown back to the ground. Kristi shuffles past the camera, and then Dennis’ spine is snapped, and he is left dead on the floor. Kristi calls for Toby, and then the girls’ grandma takes both girls and tells them “Let’s get ready”.
This was another great entry in the series. It did a good job on showing where this whole story is coming from, at least from the perspective of the girls. It leaves an unsettling feeling to see that their grandma, and whatever she is in possession of is willing to let Julie and Dennis die, and take her vulnerable granddaughters into this mess that is obviously, at this point, a cult, due to the fact that there were other women involved, and who were found gathered outside the house. This is again worth seeing, as it is a crucial part in the story. As a fan of the series, the downside is that I know I have to wait another year to find out the next portion of the story, that is now beginning to be broken wide open.
All of the other films have led up to this point. I went and saw the latest Paranormal film a couple nights ago (opening night). I knew the questions I wanted answered, but also knew from the previous films that in all likelihood all of those questions would not be answered.
Here, we follow Doug and Holly, their daughter Alex (pictured on the movie poster), and their adopted son, Wyatt. They have some strange neighbors that live across the street. There is a boy named Robbie who lives with his mom, whom we find out is Katie. Robbie comes over randomly to the house, and hides out in the treehouse in their backyard. After Katie is hospitalized for an injury, Robbie is welcomed into Doug and Holly’s home to stay for a couple days. What ensues is some strange behavior from Robbie. He is very silent, and shows no emotion on his face. He starts doing weird things with Wyatt, like drawing weird pictures on his back. Ben, who is Alex’s boyfriend, sets up the computers in the household to always be recording through the webcam so they can review the video and see if Robbie is doing some creepy things. Robbie tells Ben at one point that “he” doesn’t like him, meaning Toby, whom Robbie and Wyatt end up communicating with. Wyatt finds out that his name used to be Hunter, or at least Robbie and Toby tell him that. The boys escape over to Robbie’s house while his mom is gone. Alex, who is supposed to be watching the kids, runs over to get them, and runs into Katie. She thanks Alex and her family for watching Robbie, and Alex leaves with Wyatt.
Doug and Holly start to see some weird things happening around the house and in the end, Toby ends up killing Doug and Holly, as well as Ben. Wyatt, now known as Hunter (refer back to the second film), is lured over to Robbie and Katie’s house. Alex goes over to get him, and finds Katie there. Alex runs outside, and finds Wyatt outside. She nears him, and then points the light on her camera out over the backyard, and sees a group of at least fifty or sixty women standing there. She turns around, and Katie and all of the other women jump on her like a pack of wolves and kill her.
I almost feel like they need to start charging half price for these films, due to the fact that we were fed really a little bit of the story moving forward in this specific part of the series. This was the weak link in the chain of four for me. That being said, it was well worth seeing as a part of the overall series, and now I will wait, and yes, I will be going to see the next movie.
This is a very enjoyable series for the horror fan. I have seen a lot of movies, and there is a certain force (maybe it’s Toby) that draws me to this particular series. I will say that the formula they are using is starting to get old, and I do hope that the story is wrapped up in five films. However, even if it went past that point, I will still be watching. Oren Peli really did an amazing job introducing us to this series, and really showing us something we had not seen before. Yes, there are other demonic possession types of films, but not like this. “Paranormal Activity” was revolutionary in the way it presented this type of subject matter. I look forward to the next bit of paranormal activity!
-David B. Harrington