The Paranormal Activity franchise should not be allowed to get away with this. Oren Peli’s premise for the original Paranormal Activity was very simple: It focused on the story of a couple (Katie and Micah) who were starting to notice more and more strange occurrences in their home that increasingly seemed to be of the paranormal variety. Micah decides to set up an elaborate system of cameras and surveillance around the house in order to document said occurrences. The film is the result of those findings. Boom. Done. The movie famously had a budget of roughly $15,000, but grossed an insane $193 million. Needless to say, a franchise was born.
Once Paramount got involved, tweaks were made to the original concept in order to create an arc for the Paranormal Activity series, which would clumsily unfold over the next five films (instead of the originally conceived one-off). Here’s the most concise explanation of the resulting mythology that I can provide:
There are two young sisters whose Grandmother belongs to a coven of witches called The Midwives. This coven has a deal of sorts in which certain first-born males are sacrificed to a certain demon (in this case Toby) in return for worldly fortunes, in addition to forwarding this demon’s agenda for world domination by (basically) providing it with a demon/human army. The two girls grow up, and Toby wants the deal for a first-born son honored so it could gain physical form and lead its eventual army. This starts a long process of possession, murder, tragedy and evil prevailing that spreads out over 6 films. Also, there is time travel sometimes.
If that sounds a little convoluted (and insane) when placed in parallel with the bare bones nature of the original Paranormal Activity, that’s because it is. But this didn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Ultimately, a couple of pretty decent horror films came of it all. The problem was that the filmmakers didn’t stick the landing. They knew that they wanted to end the series, but didn’t have much of a plan when it came to tying their various threads together. This is why, even though the series has most definitely worn out its welcome and run its course, viewers are still owed one more film.
As is, the climax of the Paranormal Activity series that has been constructed reads as more of a penultimate teaser than a final word–not after the messy business of mashing all of this unpleasantness into one narrative. To save you the suspense, they seemingly think it is enough to break their own rules (and create a few new ones, just for fun) in order to finally show us the famed demon, Toby. Only…they don’t, really. And they also completely miss the point of why this venture was remotely interesting in the first place.
Besides the found footage conceit, most of what made the original film so effective was the sparse, quiet nature of its terror. What the proposed final film in the series did (and this is even before the reveal of Toby in the final moments) was strip the series of this, using a magic ghost camera to eliminate the sense of suspense that the franchise spent so much time trying to cultivate. Paranormal Activity spent numerous films following the “less is more” ethos (which worked), then the filmmakers switch it up, but refuse to commit.
What of Toby’s weird army of Jedi Demon first borns? What of the surviving daughter from Paranormal Activity 2, who provided so much hollow exposition in Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones? What of the fact that literally nothing ever defeats Toby? Like, not even God. Would these explorations make a good film? Probably not. But after spending so much time in this capricious universe, some closure is owed to its viewers.
Franchise producer Jason Blum has confirmed in an interview that the Paranormal Activity series is, in fact, over. He awkwardly teases a possible remake in the future, because…sure. Thanks, guy. Why not? However, this doesn’t do much for us dummies who actually spent time and brain matter watching the story unfold, only to crumble in on itself. In a perfect world, the producers would not be allowed to get away with this. Perhaps they would be forced to watch Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension on repeat, ad nauseam until they could brainstorm a better ending to this tedious jumble of movies. But, the justice system being as it is, we will just have to settle for them counting their billions of dollars atop a useless pile of negative reviews. That’s scary stuff.