Is More 'Paranormal Activity' Really Such a Bad Thing?

Paranormal Activity : Saw 3DYes, you could say I'm being a hypocrite when I wonder what the growing animosity aimed at the Paranormal Activity franchise is all about, considering I leveled my own issues with the continuing Saw franchise not too long ago. I can't help that. I can only acknowledge my recognition of it.

Consequently, one of my arguments in favor of the Paranormal franchise would be they are made for a mere $5 million and manage to make the studio a hefty profit well beyond their budget. More importantly, they are propelling a continuing narrative that, to me, doesn't seem forced, particularly as this latest fourth film seemed to close all holes opened by the first two while giving a slight nod to the mythology developed in the third.

To that point, however, one of the biggest problems the franchise faces is how much each installment actually delivers in terms of story. Collectively the four films offer up some interesting ideas and a fun mythology to dig into, but individually each film really doesn't forward the story too much. In fact, each film is more like an extended television episode, that actually should probably be kept to 45 minutes rather than doubled up near 90. I understand these flaws, but as we saw with the attempt to duplicate the found-footage style thrills on television with "The River", it just doesn't work the same and we all know no one is going to pay full price for a 45 minute movie. People will take bloat before ever understanding the concept of "less is more".

The lack of a larger story each time out would seem to be the root of the majority of complaints. With the third film people wanted more. They obviously enjoyed the mythology that was created, but wanted to see it brought to fruition rather than have to wait for what will likely be explored in Paranormal Activity 5 where they will hopefully get the house fire teased in the trailers and cut from the third film.

As for Paranormal Activity 4, you could have probably edited it and Paranormal Activity 2 together into one feature film and kept the fanbase even happier.

I can understand these concerns, but what I don't really get are comments such as one I got on my article over the weekend announcing Paranormal Activity 5 as well as a Latino spin-off (reportedly titled The Oxnard Tapes) due Spring 2013. The comment came from a reader named Casper writing: "Hopefully PA5 will bomb (just like Saw with Saw 5, 6 & Saw 3d) and they will stop making it and move on with another horror pic." This confuses me... Is it all a reaction to the films themselves or the idea of them?

The story each time out is small, yes, but overall there is something to enjoy. On top of all that, why would anyone complain of their existence and root for their failure? At least Paramount uses the money made by these films to bring us movies with future prospects such as Noah, Flight and Not Fade Away rather than always churning out the likes of G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.

Perhaps I'm being a hypocrite and a bit prejudiced in my taste, and most likely I am. I enjoy the Paranormal films and enjoy being in an audience where people are having fun being scared rather than grossed out. But if one argument can be made for both Saw and Paranormal franchise, the fact these thrills don't come at the price of $100-200 million a pop make it even better as even a failed effort here doesn't scare the studio off from trying again. I just wish studios would take the same efforts in other genres.

Just this morning I reported on news Warner Bros. acquired the rights to Mickey Spillane's series of Mike Hammer novels. These are stories that could be made on the cheap and maybe not enjoy as much of a global success as the Paranormal franchise, but if done right and given to the right filmmaker they could be fun, hard-boiled cinema that could turn a profit and give reason for a similar annual franchise to look forward to each year. Why not give it a shot?

  • Beautifulm

    I think they are getting tired. I mean I thought PA4 was pretty terrible. It wasn't remotely scary. I mean how many times are we going to see a door shut or someone being levitated in the air stale it becomes tired and stale. I actually liked the third one, but the activity needs to rap up.

  • Alex

    I've noticed that most every time you discuss the Paranormal films you feature references to the mythology and overarching story considerations, which I've always found interesting.

    Because I've seen them all and I have NO idea what the story is, and I know no one who does.

  • chewbaca38

    I am just happy we still have at least one long-running horror franchise.

  • Winchester

    At the end of they day we're all hypocrites and prejudiced about movies sooner or later. I am. Don't feel bad about it.

    The only thing on the PA franchise I can say is - it's not the kind of horror that scares me. It didn't with The Blair Witch Project in 1999 and it didn't with Paranormal Activity in 2009 either. The whole found footage/amateur footage really just doesn't do it mostly. But horror is like comedy (what ones likes another doesn't) and for a lot of people the stylistics of PA style films does.

    It's like the torture porn phase a couple years back. That didn't really do much for me either because once the violence had been done so often you get numbed to it. But they were also cheap with good profit margins so they made a lot of them. But PA is basically recycling the same tricks and you get a little numb to it eventually. They will still make profits though.

    But you raise a fair point about the money side of things. A few days ago we had the perennial slamming of summer spectacle blockbusters relating to The Avengers. we also had the Waxman article over Megan Ellison pouring money into films that don't generate returns. Now, some of those Tentpoles do warrant harsh treatment - some don't (like comedy and horror, you'll never get consensus on which should be which of course). But the success of some of these summer tentpoles (live action and animated these days) might help the littler movies to be made and as you also point out sometimes the success of the little ones also allows the bigger ones to be made as well because they all go into the studio bank pot.

    I think I wandered there a bit...........but anyway, the upshot is I don't care much myself if they make more or not. But I can entirely see why they will make more. Studios always need at least a couple of cash generators around to keep the bills paid.

  • Shloggs

    I would never begrudge a film being made as I have the ability to simply not see it and I'm always glad when people enjoy a film and are excited to see more entries. Also, I quit watching after the second Paranormal Activity and have no plans to see the newest installment or ever catch up with the 3rd, so my opinion on this matter is slightly skewed. All that having been said, I personally dislike the Paranormal Activity series and consider it something of an affront to the horror genre.

    I'm a huge horror fan and attach meaning and significance to the genre usually reserved for Oscar dramas. I love the Saw series and find it a fitting continuation of horror's long running commentary on the ills and fears of our society at large. The Saw films preoccupation with torture and passing moral judgement succinctly summed up the political and global mood of the mid to late 00's. Coming out and flourishing in the wake of the Iraq invasion, the Saw films and their central, omniscient anti-hero Jigsaw say a lot about where America's mental head space was at in the wake of the war on terror. The fact that such unremittingly grim and grisly films packed audiences in was a testament to the stranglehold hardcore horror had on popular cinema for most of the tumultuous 2000's. A depressing psychological barometer for the fractured era that bore them. Perhaps not the makings for a fun, popcorn-munching night at the multiplex, but relevant societal documentation nonetheless.

    The Paranormal Activity films make no such statements. They don't strike me as having much to say or as being indicative of any national anxiety. They play upon a solid marketing premise and primarily appeal to a younger generation raised on youtube video's and seemingly content to watch the cinematic equivalent of security camera footage. The only lesson they learned from the Saw franchise was churning out a new entry each Halloween. I understand people not liking the Saw films, but at the very least, they involved meticulous production design, incredible practical effects, a memorable score, cinematography and various other hallmarks of legitimate film making.

    I have plenty of diehard horror fan friends who adore the Paranormal series, so I freely admit it's all a matter of personal opinion. To answer the articles question as to whether or not more of these films is a bad thing: of course not. It's always good when a film is successful and people want to get out to the theater. Perhaps, some of the younger audience checking these out will become inspired to research more varied and intense genre entries as a result. I'm always happy when horror has a heyday at the B.O., but these films are a fad and decidedly not built to last, either in profitability or cultural relevance.

    In any case, it's an interesting article and a compelling basis for conversation. Brad, you do a fantastic job with this site and the podcast is easily my favorite film 'cast I've ever heard. Cheers

    • Brad Brevet

      Love having your perspective here and so thankful you didn't just end it with how you "consider it something of an affront to the horror genre", which is how most online comments would end.

      Your take on the Saw films is also interesting and makes me wonder if my intolerance with them has something to do with the themes you find running through them. Those themes are certainly there, and perhaps they go deeper than they did in the first couple of films, but that third one was such a trainwreck I had no interest in going any further.

      As for your comments on the Paranormal franchise, it almost goes back to my post regarding The Avengers being a spectacle feature and nothing more. With the Paranormal films I've watched the first two twice and parts 3 and 4 once and I only watched the first two twice so I could write an article. For me the Paranormal films are a case of escapism that I will probably revisit again in the future, but won't be rushing to do so, and yet, I would love to see another new installment.

      • Shloggs

        You have a thoughtful film blog and, as much as I'd love to be immortalized in good comments, you deserve a thoughtful response. You can trust me when I say that I've done a good research when it comes to the horror genre and it is something I'm incredibly passionate about.

        A great deal of horror fans loathe the Saw franchise for the same reason I exalt it, because it's so depressing. Most fans are content to wallow in the old slasher series like NOES and Friday the 13th (themselves the pinnacle of callous franchise building) because they were fun and not saying much. I think the success of Saw is extremely important when assessing such a boon time fore the genre.

        I thought Saw 3 was a marvelously over the top film with such a bleak, nihilistic tone that it bordered on self parody. Then, the non-linear narrative meltdowns of 4 - 7 completely pushed it over the edge, but not without exploring topics as varied as predatory insurance companies, negative celebrity culture and the inherent selfishness of the hero complex. I think removed from the hoopla that surrounded their initial release, they'll be appreciated for the bizarre, preachy, gore drenched soap operas they are. They belong in any serious conversation about the decade in horror alongside The Devil's Rejects, 28 Weeks Later and The Hills Have Eyes remake.

        In reference to your excellent article concerning the shiny vapidity of The Avengers, you draw an apt comparison to the superficial enjoyment some experience with the Paranormal series. In terms of cut-rate, fluke-success horror franchises, Saw is The Dark Knight Rises to Paranormal Activity's The Avengers.

        Either way, it's a really cool article you've come up with and I have a lot of respect for you seriously considering the PA films on their merits as opposed to merely their baggage. You approach film discussion with very little bias and the candor is much appreciated. Thanks for getting serious.

  • Newbourne

    I have seen them all and they are interesting to say the least, but the truth is that they just aren't scary. At all. I am extremely confused as to why so many people got scared in the first film every time they saw a moving door or a flickering light. What's so scary about those things?

    I've actually enjoyed the expanded mythology, but there just isn't anything scary about them. There are moments in the films where they actually give you breather room after a big scare and it just falls flat to me. Like when the clock would speed up, just to see a moving door, and then slow down again. I was just sitting there thinking "Really? I'm kinda bored."

    It's probably my fault. Someone once told me that I can't stop viewing movies as movies. I'm always aware that I'm watching actors playing roles in front of a camera lens. But this person told me that I would have peed myself had I thought Paranormal Activity was composed of real footage. That is probably true, but who in their right mind would actually believe it to be real? I don't know, I guess these movies just aren't for me. I wouldn't ever wish them to go away or anything, but it's not like I'm clamoring for them to take up a spot at my local theater. I would prefer that spot be saved for other offerings.

  • Scott

    Even though we know PA is fiction, the found-footage trappings are effective (to enough ticket-buyers to perpetuate the series, at least) precisely because they don't have the artistic elements of a regular movie.

    Even when the music is great (like the score to Poltergeist), it's a subconscious reminder that it's all just a movie. Same with camera angles, editing, etc. With the PA movies, disbelief is suspended so easily because what you see on-screen looks identical to what you see in reality -- minus the ghost activity.

    And those lingering wide-angle shots of a room can have next to nothing going on, but when the paranormal stuff does appear, the audience is already on edge with anticipation.

    I understand how someone can dismiss PA as not-enough-going-on if they can't suspend their disbelief, but what mystifies me is how any of these people can honestly be scared by any other scary movie.

    Not as a challenge, but just out of curiosity, I wonder what movies are found scary (scary, as in not just interesting or well-made or zeitgeist-capturing) by the people who are bored by the PA movies. I can't think of any other movies in the past five years that have given me the creeps.

  • Torryz

    I'm not sure why I enjoy the PA films but I hope they make more. I find the very entertaining than several blockbusters.

  • Dan

    Excellent write-up. I think the mythology of the movies is interesting as well, certainly not impossible to understand like some have said. I suppose there's a nice bit of ambiguity, but hey, it's better than straight spoon-feeding. And the series is a solid scare at the movie theater without being a ton more. That's fine sometimes. I doubt I'd see the individual films over and over, but who cares. Anything else I add would probably just be rehashing other comments, but I like to voice support when I think it's due.

  • Henchoz

    I personally prefer to see new installments in horror franchises then the reboots of horror franchises, the PA films may lack alittle in story but at least the writers are doing an original story and not ripping it off from a previous effort, so at least you dont know whats coming where as I was able to predict the events of the Freddy and Jason remakes, I hate to see any film fail because it can finish careers and put studios off but following the likes of Battleship and John Carters mamouth loses is it any wonder the profit making films like PA get sequals? what leaves me scratching my head is why My Bloody Valentine 2 was never made the first one was a money maker and kicked off 3D

  • Adam

    I hate the PA movies. There is a reason the fourth one dropped big time at the box office compared to the other ones, people are getting tired of the same crap. I wish we could get more sequels to better quality movies like Scream. I really enjoyed Scream 4 and plus it's a classic slasher franchise. Each one is different from the last and unigue in it's own way. Also, I'm happy to see that the 2009 horror flick The Collector is getting a sequel next month, that was a really good film that a lot of people didn't see.

    • Michael

      I loved the 4th Scream as well, i want a 5th one if Craven wants to go there.

  • Michael

    I liked the mythology of the films and I like the franchise but I think they should stop it at 5 to finish where the 3rd one started. Yeah, they should stop it with the next one or maybe 6 but that's it.