The late 90’s saw the reincarnation and then the very quick silencing of the ‘found footage’ horror film with ‘The Blair Witch Project’.
It was by no means the last found footage film but none that made a splash until 2009 with ‘Paranormal Activity’. The first film gave way to a nonstop slew of imitators that continues to this day.
Found footage films are ideal first films as they’re both cheap and fast to make and if they’re done right, they can make a fortune as was demonstrated by both ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and ‘Paranormal Activity’.
The plot is also nice and simple which is the basis for all the scary stuff to happen.
Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) are a young couple living in San Diego. Everything seems wonderful except for the fact that their house is plagued by ghostly knocks and bumps. According to Katie, this has been happening her entire life so Micah sets up a camera in the bedroom, not for any spiciness but to capture any ‘paranormal activity’ on tape. A demonologist tells them that their house is occupied by a pissed off demon and moving won’t do anything since it’s attached to Katie. As time goes on, the activity gets stronger and stronger until it all ends in tragedy as Katie is possessed by the demon, kills Micah and then disappears. Well, that depends on what ending you get.
The theatrical ending was quite good where Micah’s body was thrown at the camera and Katie’s face goes all demonic and dives at the camera. The original ending was a bit weak. After Demon Katie stabs Micah to death, she comes back upstairs, curls up by the bed and rocks back and forth until a family friend arrives at the house and finds Micah’s body. She naturally calls the police and when the police turn up, the light from their torches knock Katie out of her trance. Approaching armed police covered in blood whilst holding a kitchen knife which is also covered in blood isn’t the best idea and ends about as well as you’d expect. It was a bit too ‘American’.
My personal favourite was the studio ending where Katie stabs Micah and then comes upstairs, faces the camera and slits her own throat. I thought it was way more disturbing and would have been a really creepy closure instead of the atypical jump scare. However, it left very little open for a sequel.
‘Paranormal Activity’ was the directorial debut of Israeli filmmaker, Oren Peli. Altogether, he’s been involved in 15 projects including all of the ‘Paranormal Activity’ films which is 6 and apart from the 4 ‘Insidious’ films and producing a Rob Zombie film called ‘The Lords of Salem’, the rest are found footage films. It’s fair to say he’s found his niche.
The first ‘Paranormal Activity’ had a budget of $15,000 but walked away from the box office with $193.4 Million which is seriously good for an indie film.
I personally love the first film. It was the first horror film in a long time that actually scared me as it wasn’t over produced slog with jarring music stings and jumpscares. Micah was the cameraman and the fact that he wasn’t a cameraman by trade made it all the scarier. It just goes to show that when a film is stripped back, it works the best.
However, this is a ‘Blumhouse’ and all the films under this production house follow a very specific formula and thus with their newest hit, the new formula for the ‘found footage’ film was born. Basically, spooky happenings in a suburban area where the spookiness accelerates over time with an all-out spookiness finale and a jump scare ending that leaves it open for a sequel.
Oren Peli was the writer director and producer (along with Jason Blum although I’m 99% sure he was the money) so he had the majority of the control. However, for all future films in the series, Peli was only a producer and the finer details were left up to other people.
Hence the sequel, aptly named ‘Paranormal Activity 2’ follows Katie’s sister, Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and her family; husband, Daniel (Brian Boland), his daughter, Ali (Molly Ephraim) and Kristi and Daniel’s infant son, Hunter (Jackson Xenia Prieto and William Juan Prieto).
The writer of ‘Paranormal Activity 2’ and then ‘3 & 4 & The Marked Ones’ was Christopher Landon who’s other writing projects include the first (uncredited) and directing the second ‘Happy Death Day’ films. Enough said.
The director of ‘Paranormal Activity 2’ was Tod Williams whose other directing projects include the Stephen King adaptation, ‘Cell’. Enough said.
By no means was ‘Paranormal Activity 2’ as bad as the others but it was definitely the start of the downhill slide. Jump scares is a dangerous and slippery slope. ‘Paranormal Activity’ hardly had any except for that one at the end.
From here, the story continues.
Turns out, the demon was originally pissing off Kristi’s family and due to research by Ali, she discovers that some people make arrangements with demons for wealth and power at the expense of sacrificing the life of the first baby boy. Under the circumstances of Hunter being the first baby boy born on Kristi’s side since the 1930’s, it looks like trouble.
Kristi is possessed by the demon and so Daniel finds a way to pass the demon onto the sibling, Katie. This action leads to the events of the first film.
The night after Micah is murdered by Katie, she breaks into Kristi’s house, kills Daniel and then Kristi before taking Hunter. Ali finds the bodies of Daniel and Kristi when she returns from a class trip.
‘Paranormal Activity 2’ had over 5 times the budget of the original with $3 Million but still made a healthy profit of $177.5 Million. However, reviews couldn’t escape from the fact that it was nothing more than a copy and paste of the original.
‘Paranormal Activity 3’ follows the sisters in childhood and it’s the most confusing of the ones that I’ve seen so I won’t even try. Suffice it to say that it was the largest grossing of the six movies with $207 Million.
However, when ‘Paranormal Activity 4’ rolls around, there’s only one thread to hang onto, Katie and Hunter. So as luck would have it, the film follows someone totally unrelated, a teenage girl, Alex (Kathryn Newton). Alex has a little brother, Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp) who was adopted. One day, Alex and her friend, Ben (Matt Shively) notice that she has a new neighbour, a young woman with a small child. When the woman falls ill and is taken to hospital, her son, Robbie goes to stay with Alex’s family until she recovers. That’s when all spooky stuff starts happening.
One thing I really don’t like about the fourth film is that there isn’t a very good reason for Alex to be recording for the whole film. When things kick off as they inevitably do, Alex is still filming when she should be thinking about not being assaulted by thin air. The first three films (arguably) gave good context for the characters to be recording the events but in four, I don’t remember being given clear context as to why Alex is filming all the time.
I was super confused because it was assumed that Robbie was Hunter and the demon has followed him back into the house, but it turns out that Wyatt was Hunter and Katie shows up to claim him. The film ends with Alex facing a load of weird cult members before she’s attacked by a demonic Katie.
I haven’t seen the two spins offs, The Marked Ones and The Ghost Dimension but I understand that they start fucking around with time travel which is not OK. And the last two made the least money with ‘The Marked Ones’ making $90.1 Million and ‘The Ghost Dimension’ made the least with $78.9 Million.
According to IMDB, all six films have stayed consistent with the ratings somewhere around the middle and all of them are money spinners with all six films making $890 Million despite only costing $28 Million to make.
Blumhouse are onto a winner and it was the staple that kept the slasher genre alive in the 80’s. These films are so cheap and can be knocked out in no time and the producers don’t need to worry because at this point, the title will sell tickets and all the extra revenue gets put aside to fund other riskier projects that could potentially spawn a franchise. And even if they don’t make any money off their films, it doesn’t matter because they all cost pennies to make. Low budget, you see.
Blumhouse have got plenty of franchises to their name and are still making sequels to the all; Paranormal Activity, The Purge, Insidious, Unfriended, Happy Death Day and now the new Halloween trilogy. As long as all of these movies are making money, we’ll continue to see sequels.
The point that I’m trying to get to is the first ‘Paranormal Activity’ was the best as it was really scary, worked with an interesting formula and was made with the purest of intentions. As the years went on and the sequels were knocked out, the story got more and more confusing. Ask me? ‘Paranormal Activity’ started out with the very best of intentions but was used and twisted into another money spinner. Then again, it’s not the first and it won’t be the last.
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