Reviewing the ‘Paranormal Activity’ Franchise

Reviews of ‘Paranormal Activity 1’, ‘Paranormal Activity 2’, ‘Paranormal Activity 3’, ‘Paranormal Activity 4’, ‘Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones’, thoughts on each film individually, as a whole, and the future of the franchise.

by Mitch Burns

Downloads27‘Paranormal Activity’ (2007 Limited / 2009 Wide Release)

Director: Oren Peli

Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat and Mark Fredrichs

The film that started not only the ‘Paranormal Activity’ franchise, but in a lot of ways, the hand-held camera craze. It also saw a trend of studios putting faith in smaller budget horror films, with a decent story and some originality, and reaping the rewards.

‘Paranormal Activity’ is about a young couple, Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat), who move into a new home and begin to notice many strange things beginning to happen to them. Katie is convinced that they are being “Haunted”, so Micah begins recording their life, and the two of them while they sleep. The recordings capture something horrifying and things only start to worsen for the young couple.

On the surface, it’s very easy to see the issues with ‘Paranormal Activity’, The acting isn’t great, the characters are a bit one note, and in the case of Micah, slightly annoying. These issues aren’t entirely bothersome in the grand scheme of things, as the movie does so much with a reported $15,000 budget. ‘Paranormal Activity’ is freaky and creepy, I’m glad I didn’t see this in theaters as I can only imagine how much scarier it would have been amplified on the big screen.

The creators found a way to make something incredibly spine-tingling, on a small budget, avoiding a low-budget feel. I often found myself asking “How did they do that?”. The film creates a compelling mystery as well, one that has spanned 5 films, and I am still intrigued to learn more about. After making almost $200 million ‘Paranormal Activity’ has surpassed cult classic, and become a straight up classic, a notion that I know will be correct on even in 20-30 years.

Grade: A-

‘Paranormal Activity 2’ (2010)

Director: Tod Williams

Starring: Molly Ephraim, Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland, Seth Ginsberg, Vivis Cortez, Micah Sloat, and Katie Featherston

‘Paranormal Activity 2’ continues with the story established in the first of the series, instead of being a direct sequel, they decide to go the prequel route, which is an interesting premise. ‘Paranormal Activity 2’ centers on Kristi (Sprague Grayden), the sister of Katie (Katie Featherston), and Kristi’s family, her husband Dan (Brian Boland), their young son Hunter, and Dan’s daughter from another marriage Ali (Molly Ephraim).

Several weeks before the events of the first film, Katie’s sisters family has their house broken into and trashed, so Brian has security cameras installed throughout the entire property. The security cameras begin to catch some Paranormal Activity…

Unfortunately, ‘Paranormal Activity 2’ takes a major plummet in quality from the first film to the second. ‘Paranormal Activity 2’ has some issues, among those issues are terrible writing and bad dialogue and two terrible characters, Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and Dan (Brian Boland), who are not helped as the actors playing them give appalling performances.

If the film was as scary as the first I may have been able to overlook some of the problems the film has, but not only is the film lacking in scares, it can be dull in spots. I started to feel some fatigue with the product as well, as I found myself thinking that the film felt quite like “More of the same”, and ‘Paranormal Activity 2’ shouldn’t have these problems being only the second in a franchise.

The franchise overall may have a problem with this film (and the fourth, but more on that later), as there are questions raised in ‘Paranormal Activity 2’ that the creators may never be able to answer and will forever remain plot-holes. luckily, myself and most audiences won’t see this film as so bad because the last 20 minutes are shocking, interesting and leave you wanting more.

Grade: C-

‘Paranormal Activity 3’ (2011)

Director: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

Starring: Chris Smith, Lauren Bittner, Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown, Hallie Foote, Dustin Ingram, Sprague Grayden and Katie Featherston

‘Paranormal Activity 3’  is a prequel to a prequel, taking place in 1988, nearly 18 years before the events of ‘Paranormal Activity 1′ and 2. With a larger amount of story layered in, in order to weave the films together, and it makes ‘Paranormal Activity 3′ all the more interesting.

In ‘Paranormal Activity 2′  we were never shown that a box of video tapes were stolen from Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and Dan’s house in the robbery that resulted in them installing the security cameras. These video tapes belonged to Kristi and Katie’s (Katie Featherston) mother Julie (Lauren Bittner) and boyfriend Dennis (Chris Smith). The tapes were made by Dennis, a wedding photographer, who began to notice some supernatural events surrounding a young Katie (Jessica Tyler Brown) and Kristi (Chloe Csengery), and began to film the house.

The decisions made actually feel necessary and interesting instead of forced like in ‘Paranormal Activity 2’, (and all of ‘Paranormal Activity 4’). Taking the film back to the beginning of the haunting’s surrounding Kristi and Katie, which were only hinted at in 1 and 2, actually answers some questions, creates a few new ones, and remains scary. ‘Paranormal Activity 3’ is probably the most well made film of the entire series, it has a larger budget, and  likeable characters, good acting, and it may take a bit to get moving it does have an interesting, multi-layered story.

‘Paranormal Activity 3’ falls victim to an irritating trend that besieges most horror films, and even the first two in some fashion, those moments when no one will believe anyone. It’s basically just common knowledge that if you are in a horror film, and you see a ghost or something creepy, nobody will believe you, no matter if it’s your significant other, parents, siblings or best friend, they won’t believe you, and it’s irritating.

Also, put the damn camera down if you’re being chased, you’re trying to save someones life, and it is a life or death situation. The first two didn’t have this problem, but 3, 4 and the spin-off do, and it is quite unbelievable that these people would still be holding a camera while running scared, and so well.

Grade: B-

‘Paranormal Activity 4’ (2012)

Director: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman 

Starring: Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Aiden Lovekamp, Brady Allen, Alexondra Lee, Stephen Dunham, and Katie Featherston

It’s now 2011, a young girl named Alex (Kathryn Newton) and her family, her Mom (Alexondra Lee), her Dad (Stephen Dunham) and her littler brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp), get some new neighbors across the street. One night, cops and ambulance’s surround the new neighbors house, and Alex and her friend Ben (Matt Shively), discover the child, Robbie (Brady Allen), who just moved in across the street in their treehouse.

After Alex’s mom discovers that Robbie’s mom is in the hospital, she decides to take him in to their home. Shortly after, mysterious things begin to happen and Alex, with the help of Ben, begin to film the house using webcams, phone cameras and more to capture what is going on.

The film immediately makes my blood boil as they treat the film’s star Kathryn Newton, who was 15 at the time of filming, as a sexual object. Her friend Ben (Matt Shively) is the most irritating character I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing on-screen and he is consistently trying to seduce the young Alex, trying to get her to show her boobs, talks about being cock-blocked and watches her sleep!

The film then begins to shit on any good reputation the first three films had already built up. The scares aren’t handled well in ‘Paranormal Activity 4’, while the first 3 developed a creep factor, and worked to scare you, here the imagination is completely turned off and they throw anything at the audience to try and make the jump. The film fails, miserably. and you won’t be scared at all, in fact you will definitely find yourself rooting for the evil to win.

I don’t know how the franchise is going to work themselves out of the hole ‘Paranormal Activity 4’ dug, the first 3 created a mystery, and the 4th screws it up, at least in my opinion. I don’t know what they have planned for future installments, but the logic flaws, plotholes and lack of information actually makes me angry.

I’m trying to remind myself why I went with a D- and not an F, I know I didn’t completely hate it, probably because it is in the ‘Paranormal Activity’ universe which I do like. Although, when you take all the issues I’ve stated above, it can only get worse when you add the typical bad acting (Matt Shively), underdeveloped characters (supposedly Alex’s parents are fighting?), the predictability (if you don’t see what’s coming, you’re an idiot), and no one puts the camera down even when they are being chased.

Grade: D-

‘Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones’ (2014)

Director: Christopher Landon

Starring: Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Gabrielle Welsh, Renee Victor, David Saucedo, Gloria Sandoval, Molly Ephraim, Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston

‘Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones’ is a spin-off according to creators, after having seen it, I would call it essential viewing if you are a fan of the franchise. The spin-off takes place in 2012, essentially after all four films, although (for all spoiler-free purposes) it doesn’t really connect to those first four films (but it does, but I didn’t tell you that).

The film is set in a small apartment complex, where new high school graduate Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) lives with his Grandmother (Renee Victor) and his father (David Saucedo). He has two close friends in Hector (Jorge Diaz) and Marisol (Gabrielle Welsh), they buy a camera from a pawn shop and begin to film their surroundings. When one evening Jesse’s neighbor below him, Ana (Gloria Sandoval), is murdered, he teams up with Hector and Marisol to figure out what is happening.

‘Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones’ takes a while to get going, and if it weren’t for the likeable characters, the beginning would be a complete bore. These characters are probably the most likeable characters since Katie in the first film, the film actually builds some good relationships, friendship and family. I applaud the franchise for adding some ethnicity into the series, while most films wouldn’t dare trying something like this, I think adding a Latino family adds something different and fresh.

While the film is interesting and actually funny at points, the first hour goes by without almost a single scare, which is very odd for a horror film, it leans more towards thriller or even mystery. I think at this point the franchise needs something to liven it up, this could have been it but it still wasn’t as scary as I would have liked it to be, but still a lot scarier than the fourth film. Again, I will decry the handheld camera portion as the last 20 minutes of the film are spent with a lot of running and screaming, and any sane person would discard the camera for certain.

Although, I enjoyed ‘Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones’ for its differences, for its characters, and maybe because I had just come off ‘Paranormal Activity 4’ and anything is better than that. This is a direction the film should go towards, but amp up the scares and get the story moving a little faster please, some editing and cuts would make this a tighter, scarier thrill.

Grade: C

Thoughts on the entire Paranormal Franchise

It’s 2015 and I’m just watching the Paranormal franchise, so what are my thoughts? 1 and 3 are definitely the best, 2 and The Marked ones aren’t bad, and 4 is almost unwatchable.

Ranking: In order from my favorite to least favorite, although it’s probably pretty obvious by my grades.

#1- ‘Paranormal Activity’
#2- ‘Paranormal Activity 3’
#3- ‘Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones’
#4- ”Paranormal Activity 2′
#5- ‘Paranormal Activity 4’

Did I enjoy my time watching these films? Yes, it’s a fun little franchise, and there were many points that I had to turn the volume down or almost closed my eyes. They’ve tapped into something scary, using the handheld camera style makes the horror seem real and tangible.

Am I looking forward to more? Yes! The mystery the franchise has built up intrigues me, I’m hoping they can wrap it up in one or two more films, but these movies make so much money that I could see why they would continue forever.

The Future of the Paranormal Franchise

Seeing as I am now excited about the Paranormal Franchise and where it is going, I’ve looked into it a bit. Christopher B. Landon, who helped write all but the first film, has said that there is an end planned, and that it will take a few more films to see that out. If fatigue doesn’t hit the franchise at all, I could see that being 2, maybe 3, more films.

The next film in the franchise is titled ‘Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension’, a title that suggests a link to events that happened in ‘Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones’ , which should be interesting. It is also being seen as the fifth film in the ‘Paranormal Activity’ franchise, as  ‘Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones’ was a spin-off. The film is due in theaters October 23, 2015, but after having been delayed about three times already, and not knowing much else about the film, I’m a little worried if we will see it on that date. It will center on a family of four, with Katie Featherston reprising her role as Katie, the only actor to have been in every film so far.

Thanks for Reading!

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