Paranormal Activity Franchise

First-time director and writer, Oren Peji, went to extremes to make his first independent feature.  Peji started his journey by not only remodeling his own home, but researching the films unseen protagonist.  The remodeling of his home, the research and the dramatic form of story-telling created a cult phenomenon which later became one of 2009’s run away hits.  The film has spawned two sequels with each continuing to step back into the story set by the original film.

Some of the original films lure and success, came from an ingenious online marketing campaign.  Fans were asked to go online and demand that it be shown in the city in which they live.  In many major cities this worked well as fans were treated to the film.  After the film’s original run fans who signed up on the website were even given an opportunity to re-sign up and get their name in the films credits.  This of course caused the film to have some of the longest listed credits in recent movies but it helped fans, like me, feel this film was for us.

While all this excitement over the film was going on, Paramount purchased the rights to the film, and thus opened the door for sequels.  The second film in the series was released in 2010 and like the original scared viewers nearly out of their seats.  This second film can be called a prequel and did just as well as the original, and then we have the third film in the franchise coming out in 2011.

By now some of those reading may be wondering what film franchise I am referring to and others may have guessed by now.  I am, of course, referring to the Paranormal Activity franchise of films.

What makes these films so unique, is the way in which the story is told and the time much of the action takes place.  In both films we find one of two sisters being harassed by some mysterious entity.  The entity primarily uses the night hours to make its attention known to the family.  In the original film we find Katie (Katie Featherston) being tormented by something.  Noises in the night, bumps and thuds and eventually things get worse.  Katie is dragged from her bed, kicking and screaming and worst of all her boyfriend is no help.  Micah (Micah Sloat) refuses to listen to the advice given to them by a psychic and attempts communication with the entity and taunts the creature.  This leads to an ending that has shocked those who saw the film.

The eventual sequel, takes us back into the story.  It shows how Katie’s sister, Kristi (Sprague Grayden), is married with an infant son.  Kristi and her husband, Dan (Brian Boland), arrive home one night to find their home ransacked and eventually the only thing found missing is a necklace her sister had given her.  This leads to security camera’s being installed within the house.

As in the first film things begin to happen.  Kristi’s house is besieged by an entity of some sort as well.  It starts simple with the pool cleaner ending up on the pool’s deck and moves on.  At one point Dan’s daughter, Ali (Molly Ephraim) is locked out of the home while babysitting her brother.  Unlike the original film, in this one we find out that whatever is haunting them wants the baby boy.  Thanks in part to research that Ali does we find out that the entity is a demon and somewhere in Kristi’s and Katie’s, family someone had to have made a deal with the demon.  Now that the time has come the beast want’s its payment.

What makes these two films so unique is they prey on your base fears.  We see people sleeping as doors open around them.  Shadows reach out to touch an individual and at times it appears as if it could be standing there watching them.  How many can say a thought of someone, or something, staring at them as they sleep doesn’t send a chill down your spine.  Closets, cupboards and other items move and do their own thing with no sign of what caused it.  Worst of all, people seem to become possessed – their actions are no longer their own.

Beyond that base fear, the other item in both films that can get to an individual is how we see the men in these sisters’ lives have no disregard for their fears.  Neither man is willing to listen to the woman in their life until things get to their ultimate worst.  The men do not take the fears and concerns these woman are trying to share with them seriously but instead either deny or encourage what is going on.  This is a fear many couples have, the mistrust of a loved one.  The fear of knowing someone you care about, and cares about you, will not listen.  This can add to the tension in both films and in a subtle way is as scary as what is happening.

The Paranormal Activity Franchise is telling its story in reverse, giving us the back story to each film as it moves forward.  We understand the driving story to each original film as the franchise moves along.  The films tie together beautifully as they tell the story of this poor family.  In all cases a slow building event grows and the tension of not only the viewer but those watching the events as they unfold.  In a world where we are used to watching film crews record the life of people for reality television, these films work perfectly.  We can understand how a single camera, or more, is able to capture all this activity with no one knowing what to do. As paranormal television shows grow in popularity and we start to hear the true stories of other the events of this franchise become more real and possibly even scarier.

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