UNKNOWN DIMENSION: THE STORY OF PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2021)
Documentary written and directed by Joe Bandelli starts us off with a brief history of found footage horrors from Cannibal Holocaust to The Mcpherson Tape, to The Blair Witch Project. We then meet Oren Peli who details how he got the idea for the first film, in this now classic franchise, from his own experiences hearing strange noises in his new home. He details the casting of Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, who then join the documentary to give anecdotes of their own, on filming the first Paranormal Activity on a shoestring budget and with what barely could be called a script. The film then takes us on the long road to its eventual theatrical release, with interviews from various producers and horror journalists, as the film becomes a box office smash, and a franchise is born. Bandelli then brings in a host of actors and filmmakers as he takes us on the journey of the making of the film’s sequels, leading up to the recent seventh film that was still filming when this documentary was completed.
Bandelli crafts a fun and informative look at the history of one of modern horror’s most famous and successful movie franchises from the perspective of those involved. The writer/director brings in a host of talent from behind and in front of the cameras, to give a detailed and entertaining look at how what was basically little more than a home movie, turned into a near billion-dollar movie franchise. If you are a fan of this series, it is fun to see the stars from the original film, and all the sequels, return these many years later to describe their time working on the flicks, and even some honest commentary from the people involved on what led the series into its decline in the later installments. If you are a fan of the Paranormal Activity films and are curious about how it all came together, this is definitely a recommended watch on Paramount+.
I thought I’d wrap up my recent look back at the Paranormal Activity sequels… as well as a review of the new Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones with a look back not only at the first sequel/prequel Paranormal Activity 2, but with a review of an unofficial direct sequel made in Japan called Paranormal Activity: Tokyo Night…
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 (2010)
Not often do sequels live up to the original… and this sequel doesn’t quite rate an equal… but Paranormal Activity 2 does a good job of keeping up with its predecessor well enough. Director Tod Williams uses your familiarity with the first chiller to mess with you and up the ante on the goose-bump factor. He knows when you’ll expect something and more importantly, when you’re not. PA2 is cleverly written and is a nice companion piece to the original as it is both sequel and prequel, fitting with the original like an adjoining puzzle piece. This film involves Katie’s sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden), her husband Daniel (Brian Boland) and stepdaughter Ali (Molly Ephraim) as they welcome new baby boy Hunter (Jackson and William Prieto) into the house. Soon after the baby’s arrival, the house is broken into, and strange things start to occur. In response, Daniel has security camera’s installed while Ali starts to carry a camera around with her everywhere, thus keeping in line with the found footage format as we are allegedly watching that footage. Daniel refuses to believe what Ali and Kristi are starting to suspect, that they have another new arrival, other than the infant son, and this one isn’t as cute and sweet.
Paranormal Activity 2 takes place, mostly, 2 months before the first film, allowing for appearances from Micah (Micah Sloat) and Katie (Katie Featherston) and it explains a bit more as to why these occurrences are happening and how it wound up at Micah and Katie’s house a few months later. And without giving anything away, PA2’s timeline does catch up to its predecessor during a final act which had the preview audience screaming almost nonstop. Which is why these flicks are best seen with an audience. To reveal any more would ruin a fun and spooky follow-up and for fans of this series, it is exactly that. The cast all do good work and come across as a family and I found the Rey’s quite likable and that helps your concern for them, and it was fun to see Micah and Katie again too. PA2 won’t convert those who didn’t appreciate Oren Peli’s original scare-fest, but for those that did, it’s a sequel that smartly remains familiar enough to its source yet, shakes things up just enough to satisfy and entertain. Well done! Also stars Vivis Cortez as the Latino housekeeper with a handy knowledge of the supernatural.
PERSONAL RANT: I respect that a lot of people don’t hold this sequel in the same regard I do, but one of the things that annoys me is that the detractors always go to the ‘haunted pool cleaner’ as a major argument point. If they were paying attention, there is a scene where Daniel clearly demonstrates to Ali and Kristi that the pool cleaner is simply malfunctioning. So, it is not possessed, it’s a red herring and helps to further serve Daniel’s disbelief that there is anything supernatural going on. I respect opposing opinions but picking on and twisting points that are clearly explained just to further your viewpoint, not so much.
Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night is an unofficial Japanese made sequel to Paranormal Activity where brother Koichi (Aoi Nakamura) is…for some reason (maybe it was explained, but the subtitles on the print I saw were pretty poor) using a camera to document while he cares for his injured sister Haruka (Noriko Aoyama), who is wheelchair bound. When strange things begin to happen around the house, the brother continues to document as the paranormal bumps in the night escalate and it becomes clear there is something malevolent in their home. And since his sister was injured while in the US in an accident involving the demon possessed Katie from Paranormal Activity, is this any surprise?
Despite the new setting, the addition of Japanese spiritual culture and making the antagonists brother and sister, Japanese offspring of Peli’s runaway hit is basically made from the same formula and is practically a remake of PA1. Writer/director Toshikazu Nagae does deliver some amusing bits…including using a split screen effect as the siblings have separate bedrooms and thus a camera in each, so you have to keep an eye on two rooms at once…and it does have a few spooky moments…including a creepy hospital set ending…but everything is just too familiar to make it anything more than just a curiosity for fans of this series and it sure won’t recruit any new ones. In an odd way it does fit in, to a degree, with the rest of the series, so if you are a completest, you may want to seek this out. To my knowledge there was never any legal action by the Paranormal Activity creators or Paramount Pictures, but maybe they found it as mildly amusing and ultimately harmless as I did.
I know this sequel gets a lot of negative heat thrown its way but as a fan of this series, I have to say I liked Paranormal Activity 4 to a degree. It’s the weakest entry in the series so far and is low on scares but I still had spooky fun with it and the last act delivered some goods. I think there still is enough of what fans like about this series to entertain but next entry better start cranking things up and taking risks as this 4th chapter is showing some major signs of a franchise running out of steam.
This entry opens up in 2011. A family in Nevada gets new neighbors across the street, a strange boy named Robbie (Brady Allen) and his single mom, Katie (Katie Featherston). When his mom is suddenly taken to the hospital, the family takes creepy Robbie in. Once he is settled into their home, teen Alex (Kathryn Newton) starts to notice strange occurrences as Robbie befriends her little brother, Wyatt (Aiden Lovecamp) and so, she and boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively) set up cameras and set the household laptops to record to get to the bottom of things that are going bump in the night…and bump in the day, too. Soon Alex begins to believe Robbie is not the only new occupant in the house and this spectral guest is far from a friendly ghost.
The first act seems to be a bit choppy… though the director’s cut does flow better and adds a few fun bits… and there are a few odd edits throughout… such as one character being dragged out of their room and then suddenly on their feet, laptop in hand and apparently unharmed in the very next scene like it never happened… and it is also in act 1 in which the film has its strongest feeling of déjà vu. but things start to pick up steam during the middle act and the movie really starts to click and become more its own thing. Then the third act locks in and delivers the goods up to and including the spine-chilling climax. Sure, along the way there are some familiar elements, but you wouldn’t remove Jason’s hockey mask, would you? There were enough new wrinkles in my book to keep things going, as well as some subtle hints as to where the mythos might be headed. Not to mention a surprising reveal, too… although I admit it poses more questions than it answers.
The cast are all fine. The parents (Alexondra Lee and her real-life husband actor Stephen Dunham, who sadly passed away the month before this was released) get the least screen time and character development but the teens are very likable. Newton and Shively work well together and give the flick a sort of Scooby Doo vibe. Newton especially is a strong heroine, Lovecamp’s Wyatt is sweet, and Allen’s Robbie is very creepy. Series regular Katie Featherston gets a bigger role then last time around and without spoiling things, I liked how the character was used and Katie Featherston did a good job with her role.
All in all, there is some definite ‘been there done that’ and some wear and tear on the formula but I think fans will enjoy this entry enough to want more and that’s what the filmmakers will have to deliver next time to keep this series going. It’s time to really take some chances and give us something to really bite our nails over. Paranormal Activity 4 is a nice snack to hold us over till then but it’s time for Katie and company to give us a full meal of new frights and new surprises as PA4 admit-tingly does appear more like something put together just to keep us busy till they come up with something really solid. This series needs a second wind if it is to survive.
The infamous trailer which includes a lot of spooky scenes that didn’t make it into the final cut or directors cut… the film was edited up to the last minute before release and sadly some of these bits didn’t make the released print. Shame, because some of it looks better than the sequences we got, and I personally think a lot of the negativity this flick gets is a product of the disappointment of not getting stuff that the trailers advertised…
I like the Paranormal Activity series. It’s a minimalist smoke and mirrors approach that let’s your imagination conjure up a good deal of the scares and a pleasant change from some of the more gruesome stuff that I love and entertain myself with. But, with a third installment, the question is, can they keep the formula fresh, and your imaginations properly manipulated? The answer is yes! PA3 directors Henry Joost and Ariel Shulman (directors and writers of the indie hit Catfish) take the reins and take us back to 1988 when sisters Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) are little girls and all the bumps in the night began.
And these two know how to manipulate the formula and crank it up, while also adding some welcome humor to the mix. Where 1 & 2 were a slow burn, PA3 starts almost immediately. When strange noises start to occur and Kristi starts talking to an imaginary friend, their single mom Julie’s (Lauren Bittner) boyfriend Dennis (Chris Smith), a wedding videographer, sets up cameras in the house to capture what’s going on and… we all know what comes next…and the makers of PA3 are counting on it. They know we know what to expect and when, and cleverly use that against us. That and they use a fantastic gimmick involving a camera mounted on an oscillating fan base, and with it Joost and Schulman take us on a roller-coaster ride of delightfully scary fun. You literally sit there, eyes darting all about the frame trying to anticipate where the next scare is coming. And Joost and Schulman lure you in every time. In the film’s final act, we do go into slightly new territory for this series and in some truly bone chilling sequences get an idea as to why Katie and family are targeted by this malevolent force. To say anymore would spoil an extremely nerve-wracking and nail-biting climax that is as haunting as it is revealing.
Most of the cast are new and perform well, especially the little girls who really handle their difficult roles with surprisingly strong performances while Bittner and Smith make a very real and charming couple. We like this bunch and therefor care about them. Series star Katie Featherston also does appear briefly as adult Katie, as does Sprague Grayden as Kristi, which helps us better link this with the previous two flicks. The FX are minimal as usual but really effective and the POV camera style still works just fine with a little suspension of disbelief.
A fun addition to the series and while I do understand why they don’t appeal to everyone, I have a good time with these, especially in a packed movie house where horror movies should be seen. The home media release includes a director’s cut that is a bit longer and has some amusing bits added in.