After Paranormal Activity 4: What Comes Next For Franchise?

As a heads up, this post does contain potential spoilers for the past three Paranormal Activity films. The 4th remains safe, but it's essential to discuss the specifics of the past of the franchise to also discuss its future. And now here we are. It's hard to believe that we're already four films deep, but come Friday the newest chapter in the Paranormal franchise makes that a reality. Whether or not you are a fan of the films you can't deny that they're absolute cash cows and its safe to say there will be more. Many, many more. When your profit is umpteen times your budget it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. So acknowledging the inevitable, that next October we can expect PA5 and probably 6 the following year, where can the franchise go from here? From my perspective, this body is starting to stink and we need to either get rid of it or Frankenstein the heck out of it and give it some new life. Clearly the studios aren't burying it so we're only left with the latter. The jig is up folks. Unless you're thirteen and on a first date with your freckle faced, popcorn stuck in his braces boyfriend, this latest sequel isn't going to provide many scares. You've seen it all before. In fact you've seen it three times before. When the first premiered it was what everyone said it was, cool, original, and scary. But how many times can creaking ceilings and spooky happenings caught on your Canon 5D actually scare millions of people? Not often these days. If anyone saw the small film Apartment 143, which is just a sad, sad rip from what PA has already done well, you realize that further sequels will only be filled with yawns and groans if the writers try to stretch out the found footage trick in the same vein as they have been. It's lost its zing and it's time to step it up by, whoah what's that, creating an honest to God narrative Horror film. Considering the popularity of Insidious and now Sinister, it's safe to say there's some comfortable room to grow into a film that is about spiteful spooks whilst taking it to the next level and addressing it as a third person narrative. If the plan is to keep the found footage gag then the only way for the franchise to step up its game is to start getting a little blood on its hands. I'm not usually one to advocate for gore or violence purely for the sake of it, but I think that's been the one thing lacking in the PA sequels that would add a bit more scare. If you're seeing some couple snoozing on their bed and one of them is risen into the air and ripped in half and it's "caught on camera", there's going to be some serious OMG!'ing heard in that theater. As it stands the films have yet to elevate themselves into adulthood. They're rated R but it's all for language. At the end of the third, when Dennis is twisted like a pretzel we almost got there, but then his lifeless body simply collapsed to the floor. It's still been very tame up to this point (and remains as such in the 4th). I don't want to sound like a sadist here, but it's time to up the ante and start chopping off some heads and tearing some people in two like a couple of phone books. And even though she's gotten progressively cuter, I think it's time to drop Katie Featherston and that entire plot altogether. Why is it a requirement that all these films be connected? Is there only one demon out there, one coven of witches, one ghost? It's a big world out there with other countries and God knows how many different cases of paranormal activity. Who else is catching their fear on film? (Also, as a side note, let's not call the scary demons "Toby" anymore. When I think of scary names for the Devil's friends it's never going to be "Toby". So let's never do that again.) The biggest question is, do we want to dig deeper into this Witches Coven lore? The cult of possession, child rearing, and then coincidental forgetfulness has resulted mainly in stretching thin plots thinner so it could easily be moved away from. People, for some reason, want explanations and reasoning for what motivates demons to do what they do. At this point, the most effective way to do that would be to launch the franchise into that new genre. A few films have managed to blend found or documentary style footage with narrative, my favorite being the vastly under appreciated Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. The way the PA plots are constructed make it tedious for important information to be revealed. Because it's strictly found footage it has to be discovered as if in coincidentally casual conversation or by stumbling onto things like a photo in the attic, scratches on the door, or a drawing on the wall. Not that this is too far from how a standard narrative would handle these reveals but because we're not very endeared to the characters it feels like we're just running through the motions. If half the films focus becomes telling a narrative from the third person and accessing their found footage as the other half, what can be done with the characters is making them likable and/or endearing them to us. As it stands, every male "protagonist" in the PA films is a huge douche. The sisters, both young and old, were annoying, and now this scared high school teeny-bopper, her mom, and this "creepy" little boy are even more lifeless. Absolutely zero focus is placed on theme, message, or why characters are driven to be who they are. Because it's found footage, it's purely surface level plot. In order to move past this the films needs to embrace their blended genre and give the audience information in the third person narrative they couldn't have gotten otherwise. And what would be so bad about Paranormal Activity being not so paranormal after all? All these scares are the result of ghosts and demons. What if the premise for a future sequel was simply an insane, slasher type found footage film? It seems like a spirit is in the house, but cameras reveal it's a man who's hell bent on murdering some families because he's a kook and just likes to do it. Must the explanation always be demons, witches, or Casper? Blending the slasher genre with found footage could result in some good, original fun. Ghosts scare us, but what scarier than doing dishes, looking out your window, and seeing the shadow of a man staring back in at you? Few things. As you can see, there are still plenty of places to take the franchise. I'm a fan of the original and think the found footage gag is still cool, but it's become a crutch. It alone can't drive an entire film and still deliver on scares, character development, and a decent story. Making it a component of a larger genre would make things infinitely more easy and open up a lot of other avenues the story can find new roots in. A sequel doesn't mean in direct connection to its predecessor, it can be anything with the name "Paranormal Activity" slapped onto it. As with all other franchises, it has become a brand and with that brand has all the publicity, recognition, and expectation built in. Embrace the success you've had with the past but don't be afraid to take chances. Audience will react more favorable to a franchise willing to try something new than one that results to the same scare tactics over and over again. Let's end with this vivid and accurate example from the Bible. "For man's close friend, whom is Paramount to him, shall jump forth at thee from behind thine front door when leaving for work, delivering shock and fear, so sayeth the Lord. Yet after a weeks time ye shall expect it. But the fool can still have wit, even after five years time as thine friend Paramount decides to leap on top of thee after springing from the ceiling in thine own bathroom, proving even the fool can find new tricks, though they may come only once ever half a decade or so...so sayeth the Lord." Exactly. Thoughts? Predictions? Comments below kids!
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Actor, writer, filmmaker, stand up comic, jack of all trades...hopefully master of some. Living the dream, whatever that is, in LA while always sitting in traffic. He's also the co-creator of the comedy group NSFYM (Not Safe For Your Mom). facebook.com/nsfym