Paranormal Activity is an indie horror film about a woman, Katie, who's had to deal with the unfathomable and terrifying caprices of a supernatural entity—a shadow at the foot of her bed, lights flickering, banging on walls—for most of her life. Her boyfriend, Micah, decides to buy a high-end video camera to film the house at night in order to find an explanation for these phenomena and make some money out of the tape. But then crap gets real.The film was shot in a week on $15,000 and premiered at festivals in 2007. With the blessing of Steven Spielberg himself, it saw limited release in theaters in September 2009; after an effective marketing campaign that asked people to demand that the film be released nationwide (to the number of a million requests—a number which was reached in less than a week), the film saw a nationwide release on October 16th, 2009.A sequel was released on October 22nd, 2010, rivaling with the seventh chapter of the Saw saga, which is interesting given that the director of that Saw installment wanted to direct Paranormal Activity 2.A third film, taking place in the late 80s during Katie's and Kristi's childhood, was released on October 21st, 2011. Trailers can be viewed here and here.A fourth film, held after the events of 2 which follows a possessed Katie and Hunter (now age 6), who have just moved into a house together as mother and son, and their neighbours, Alex and her mother, who begin to experience the same hauntings which followed Katie and Kristi's family. The trailer can be seen here and the second trailer can be viewed here.This page contains spoilers and tropes for all four films!
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As a series, these films provide examples of:
Adult Fear: In the first film, we learn that the entity has pursued Katie since her childhood, and in the third film we see this play out. The second movie's haunting centers on a newborn.
With an added dash of Does This Remind You of Anything?, the third film has the parents growing increasingly concerned over Kristi's growing relationship with an imaginary older friend who makes her keep secrets and threatens to hurt her if she tells them. Given that the film is set in the 80s, before the internet made this a common fear, it's not really played up too much, but the parallels are there for modern audiences.
Agent Mulder: Katie in the first film and Ali in the second. In the third film, it's actually Dennis and his friend Randy. In the fourth film, it's Alex and her friend Ben.
Behind the Black: Many scares, especially in 2, 3 and 4 (which each use multiple or moving cameras) are set up just outside the frame, or are obscured by the characters in front of it, so that the audience is freaked out by their sudden appearance when the camera focuses on them, even though the characters should be able to see them from their own perspective.
Catapult Nightmare: Katie, in the first film, does this one time when waking up. Ali does this in the second film as well. Both are due to the demon's influence (Katie is being fed gruesome nightmares by it; Ali wakes up after it looms over her).
Deal with the Devil: Never completely confirmed, but heavily implied that this is the ultimate source of the haunting.
Demonic Possession: It's suggested (and outright confirmed in the DVD commentary) that in the first half of 1, Katie is possessed by the demon when she can not remember anything happening. The final day ramps this Up to Eleven...
In Paranormal Activity 2, Kristi is dragged down the staircase and into the basement, after which she gets possessed, then exorcised. Three weeks later, possessed-Katie (from the end of the first movie) returns to Kristi's house on the final night, kills both Dan and Kristi, and walks off with Hunter.
By the end of the third movie, Dennis and Julie are the only ones who don't get possessed at some point; instead, they're both killed.
Downer Ending: Regardless of what ending you get for the first film, someone ends up dying. In two of them, both of the people you've just spent an hour and a half trying to relate to die. In the last one, you just get horror.
On the final night of Paranormal Activity 2, Possessed-Katie enters the house. And leaves nothing living inside. All except for Hunter, who she kidnaps.
On the last night in Paranormal Activity 3, the demon strangles Julie, snaps Dennis' spine in half, and the grandmother and her cult friends essentially hand Katie and Kristi over to the demon.
Fluffy the Terrible: A partial example. The demon doesn't go by a name, but Kristi nicknames it "Toby" as a child.
Foreshadowing: In the first film, the footsteps of the demon 'walking' down the hall during the preliminary hauntings turn out to mirror the shuffling noises we hear just before the 'pop out and scare you' moment in the last scene.
The damage to the photo of Katie and Micah in the first film - Micah's face is scratched, Katie's isn't. On the final night, Micah is killed by the demon.
In the third film, when Dennis tries to explain to Julie about the cult and how it relates to the markings he found in their house, you can tell that that's going to come up later on in the movie.
Also in the third film, when Katie is messing with a painted photo and is warned not to mess with it. No points for guessing that there will be a reveal when that painting comes off the wall.
Near the start of the first film, Micah does a "slash the throat" motion towards the camera when talking about how to "respond appropriately" to what's going on. In the one of the alternate endings, Katie slashes her own throat.
In 2, Dan is messing around with the camera's night vision in Ali's room. Later, he utilises the night vision to find his way around when the demon blows the electricity in the house.
For the Evulz: The demon, especially in the first film. Honestly, it slams the door shut then bangs on the other side of it just to fuck with them.
Indeed, Katie even acknowledges this trope when she asks "Do you think that thing would have left footprints if it didn't want to? No. It did it because it wanted to. It wanted you to find my photo."
Friends Rent Control: At first glance, it appears that this is the case, but a passing reference is made in the first three movies to the "sudden" acquisition of wealth by Katie and Kristie's great-grandmother, in conjunction with descriptions about how deals can be brokered with demons for just that, usually in exchange for a first-born son. The upshot is that the family is filthy rich with ill-gotten demon-money, and Toby has haunted them for five generations, waiting to collect his collateral.
Idiot Ball: Almost everything Micah does in the second half of the first film is obviously counterproductive. In his defense, however, he is a skeptic and this stuff really stresses him out and frays his good sense.
It seems to be a trait of the men in these movies, as Dan refuses to believe or accept the idea that there is anything wrong in his house,
Surprisingly, in the third movie, Dennis is the one who realizes that something very fucked up is going on and Julie denies it. She holds the ball for most of the movie until the demon decides to fuck her up.
Intangible Man: The demon's intangibility is apparently selective at its discretion.
It slashes up Micah in a photo of the couple without removing the glass (although it has five nice, neat cracks on it over his face).
It leaves footprints in the powder, just because it wants to.
Kristi runs across the bedroom unimpeded but Katie—who is right behind her—slams into something with an audible thump.
In the third movie, an earthquake causes bits of dust and plaster to fall on the demon, revealing his outline. A second later it all falls to the ground as if nothing was there.
Then in the fourth movie, there's the mother who backs-up into Toby. Toby is not pleased.
Dan in Paranormal Activity 2, particularly when you find out his ultimate solution to the haunting.
Jump Scare: Many and varied, although the trope is subverted on a few occasions - the attic scene in 1, for example, is set up so that the audience is expecting something to jump out at Micah, but it never does.
Leave the Camera Running: Arguably the whole movie is this trope taken to extremes; entire nights are shown on fast-forward for the sake of a minute or two of action.
Justified in the second film, as it's filmed through security cameras. However, the film purposefully repeats the same angles (front door, pool, kitchen, living room, front door, Hunter's room) for the first batch of nights, both to imitate security TV footage and to screw with the viewer.
Used too much in the third film. At times, Dennis is recording himself reviewing video footage. Then, toward the end, when they're at the grandmother's house, he sets up the camera in the bedroom when he has no reason to believe a ghost has followed them. Then, when the shit hits the fan, he carries the camera around with him, even picking it up when he drops it when he's in danger. Given the nature of people and their camera phones now a days, he was really just before his time.
For the fourth film, they introduce the camera phone and laptop.
Meaningful Background Event: During the ending of 2, possessed-Katie can be seen standing behind Dan without his knowledge. During the ending of 3, Lois is standing in the darkness, just watching Dennis, as he retrieves the camera in the bedroom.
Musical Spoiler: Well, sort of. When the demon is present and active, a low, ominous, ambient rumbling can be heard.
Neck Snap: Possessed-Katie snaps Dan's neck in 2. In 3, the demon snaps Dennis' neck and back, commando-style.
Never Trust a Trailer: In the final frame of one trailer for 2, you can see the family dog in Hunter's room barking at something unseen in the doorway. The crib is empty, however creepily enough in the mirror's reflection you can see baby Hunter standing in it. This never happens in the film.
The DVD cover shows the opposite — Hunter is in the crib, but he cannot be seen in the mirror. This also doesn't happen in the film.
Also in 2's trailer, there is a part where the chair in Hunter's room begins to rock on its own, and a scene where Katie's silhouette suddenly appears in the doorway. Neither of these things happen in the film.
Trailers for the third movie feature a number of clips that never happen in the movie: Julie being pulled into her bedroom and the doors slamming shut behind her, Katie and Kristi huddling in a corner in the kitchen, their house on fire, et cetera.
The teaser for the third film featured the girls invoking Bloody Mary in their bathroom. The scene does happen, but with completely different characters.
In the first film, the psychic who stops by near the beginning says that, when dealing with a demon, there are three things you should never do, as they give the demon more power: don't try to talk to it, don't antagonize it, and avoid a buildup of negative energy. Over the course of the film, Micah repeatedly attempts to communicate with and taunts the demon, against Katie's wishes; as a result, their relationship begins to deteriorate, which of course leads to negative emotions all around.
In a more subtle example from the first film, Katie, in the very last stages of her humanity, is found by Micah clutching a crucifix. Micah later burns it along with the photo discovered in the attic. Word Of God has stated that the crucifix, although having little effect on the demon, was the last thing to just barely keep her safe from it.
Dennis (in 3) is the only franchise hero who seems to have any brains and tries to figure out what the hell's going on without causing problems. Randy, on the other hand, just gets out while he still can.
Nightmare Face: Those possessed by the demon take on demonic facial features. Taken Up to Eleven during the ending of the fourth film.
Nothing Is Scarier: The majority of each film's content. The "nothing" was so strong on test screenings for the first film that people left the cinema out of fear – making it appear more marketable to the execs.
From the first film: were you expecting a Stinger?...or credits at all, for that matter?
The extended version of the second film includes a scene where the stove is turned and soon engulfs a pan in flames.
Prequel: Paranormal Activity 2 is actually this instead of a sequel, as many believed; Katie even drops a Red Herring early on when she says that "Micah couldn't be here." Every night-time event takes place before the first movie, except for the last five minutes of the film.
The third movie takes place eighteen years before the first two.
Red Herring: There are several references in the first film to a creepy demonologist that never actually appears in the movie.
With the greater understanding of what the demon wants following the second film, the entire what-happened-to-Diane subplot of the first film is implied to be more-or-less a fakeout by the demon.
Retcon / Rewrite: In the first movie, Micah makes an off-hand joke that Katie's mother shouldn't visit them any more, despite that we later learn she's been dead for years.
2 has the two sisters talking, at length, about how the demon tormented them for years, but in the third film we see that the events take place over only about a month.
Although, they were still tormented by the demon after the events of the third film (as Katie mentions to Dr. Fredrichs during their first meeting), and it's entirely plausible that they moved in with another family afterwards, which would be where the fire took place. Assuming they did move in with another family, Micah could have been referring to an adoptive mother of Katie's. Other continuity errors could be explained by the gaps in their memory as well.
Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Dr. Fredrichs in his last scene in 1. He enters the house, reads the metaphysical writing on the wall, stays long enough to dash their remaining hopes, then gets the fuck out.
Slasher Smile: Just before Possessed-Katie lunges at the camera in 1's theatrical ending, she sports an ear-to-ear smile. Her smile when she's laying on the bed after her Voice of the Legion kicks in may also qualify as she is smiling for all the wrong reasons.
After Possessed-Katie kills Dan and Kristi in 2, she sports the same smile while holding Hunter.
The third film implies that a demonic cult has been tampering with their memories for hell knows how long throughout their childhoods.
Story Breadcrumbs: The over-arcing story is told in this fashion. Each movie reveals a little bit more and the only way you get any idea of what's going on is the watch them all. The first movie introduces Katie and the demon, the two central figures of the haunting. The second film reveals why the demon went after Katie, expands upon Katie's family, and gives the first few hints about the source of the haunting. The third movie more-or-less confirms the source of the hauntings, reveals what happened to Katie and Kristi's parents, and shows where this whole thing started. The fourth film then explores on the fates of Katie and Hunter.
Now there are recent channels on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube that follows a man named Jacob Degloshi. The videos appear to be leading to Paranormal Activity 5 while giving more detail on the Featherston sisters' past.
Visible Invisibility: Invoked by Micah in 1, who spreads talcum powder all over the upstairs floor to catch the demon's footprints. Sometimes the demon casts a shadow.
In the third film, dust from an earthquake briefly settles on the demon's body.
White Shirt of Death: After Katie becomes possessed and kills Micah, his blood is splattered over her light-coloured pyjamas. She is still wearing them when she returns to Dan and Kristi's house the following night.
Tropes applying to the first Paranormal Activity:
An Arm and a Leg: If one pauses the movie to read the article about the Diane Mercer case, it states that the possessed Diane gnawed her own arm off while restrained. Additionally, a quick shot of the grisly damage is visible for a second or two when Katie and Micah watch the video footage of her exorcism.
Bullying A Demon: Micah goes out of his way to antagonize an invisible demon. This proves foolish.
Chekhov's Gun: Subverted. The audience sees Micah wielding a butcher knife near the beginning of the film, and in the original cut this became important later, but the edited ending excises it.
Daylight Horror: When the demon damages Katie and Micah's photo during the day, you know things have got out of hand.
Exact Words: Deconstructed. Micah promises not to buy a Ouija board. So, he borrows one instead. Great lengths are taken to show how much of a violation of trust it would be to pull this trope on someone.
Freeze Frame Bonus: The first time Katie gets out of bed and stands motionless in one spot, look carefully at the shadow she's casting. It starts to move towards the hallway about a second before she does.
From Bad to Worse: This film can be summarized with, "Boyfriend and girlfriend hear noises. Boyfriend buys camera. It Got Worse."
Hijacked By Jesus: Micah is seen flipping through a book on demons, which features an article on Baphomet - in actuality this was a medieval European swipe at Muslims (Baphomet - Mahomet), and supposedly the 'demon' worshipped by the Knights Templar. In real life, Baphomet is often mistaken to be a demon, so it's likely the fault of the book's author, not necessarily the film makers.
Now You Tell Me: Katie didn't bother telling Micah that she's had a demon spirit bugging her for most of her life until she moved in with him.
Revised Ending: The movie has three endings. The theatrical version is the canon one.
Shout Out: In the original European mythology, demons were depicted as having as the feet of birds, and bird footprints show up in the talcum powder Micah sprinkles on the floor. They were given cloven hooves when the Church attempted to demonize pagan gods like Pan.
Slashed Throat: Possessed-Katie slits her own throat in one of the alternate endings.
Too Dumb to Live: The psychic and Katie repeatedly warn Micah against communicating with/antagonising whatever is in the house. Micah decides to spread talcum powder around, buy a Ouija board, and yells at the demon to do its worst. By the time he realises that antagonising the demon is a bad idea, it's already too late.
Also, a creepy example lies in the marks that possessed-Kristi scratches into the basement door. Particularly the marks that form a single word: "MEUS", which is Latin for "mine".
Break the Cutie: Despite the demon not particularly interested in her specifically since the worst she ever is to it is an impediment in getting what it wants, there is no possible way that Ali makes it through the events of 2 unbroken.
Infant Immortality: You think the sequel would be an aversion, but in the end the only ones left alive and unpossessed are Hunter and Ali, though the ending doesn't exactly leave one with much hope for Hunter.
Prequel: Starts off as one to the first film and then becomes a semi-sequel by picking up after Katie's possession.
Pyrrhic Victory: The exorcism of Kristi. Unfortunately, the demon simply took control of Katie and returned to finish what it started.
Creepy Doll: You know how every kid that grew up in the 80s and early 90s had one of those Teddy Ruxpin dolls? You know how they were the creepiest damn things ever? Yeah. The filmmakers for the third movie remembered them too.
Determinator: Dennis in the third film, who really does give it his all to get out of that house at the end.
Evil Old Folks: Lois, as well as her fellow coven members who appear in the climax.
Face Revealing Turn: At the end of the film, Dennis tries approaching Katie whose back is facing him. Unfortunately after turning around we learn she's possessed and she sends him flying across the room.
Imaginary Friend: Kristi "befriended" the demon as a child. His name is Toby. People tell Kristi that he's imaginary, but he's not. A few night time scenes show her speaking directly to him.
Laughing Mad: Randy lets out a few bursts of terrified laughter when the demon terrorises him and Katie.
Sigil Spam: After you're brought to awareness that the triangle symbol is associated with the creature, you realize it's all over the place. The walls of the closet, the walls of Grandma's house, the Light-Brite at the back of the room, the pictures of the witches...
Supernatural Proof Mother: Julie, until the entire kitchen drops from the ceiling in front of her. Unfortunately for her, she is well past the point of being able to help the situation.
The Eighties: The film is set in 1988 and really does have quite an 80's feel. See above with Teddy Ruxpin, the Sega Master System, Light-Brite...
Action Girl: Alex is honestly the most proactive protagonist in the series, more than likely due to her and her boyfriend being a little Genre Savvy.
Alternate Reality Game / Viral Marketing: Sometime after the film came out a Youtube account controlled by a man named Jacob Degloshi showed clips of him and his daughter being haunted by the demon as he reviewed clips from a VHS showing parts of the second and thrid films. As things went on, his daughter Sarah (moving in with him from his exwife) was being haunted more by the demon to the point where she carved the coven symbol into her arm and killed her pet bird. The campaign ends on a (now finished) livestream where Jacob reviews the sixth tape only for his house to go out and him to be killed before his possessed daughter and exwife. It's implied his exwife was a member of the coven who asked the demon to help her get her daughter back and make her join the coven.
Cassandra Truth: Alex's parents refuse to believe her, even when she's almost killed and she has the footage to prove it.
Cat Scare: Lampshaded. The family cat makes frequent appearances and strolls around the house at its leisure, so the audience knows to expect it.
Creepy Child: Robbie, the child living with Katie from across the street.
Alex's brother Wyatt also counts. Especially after The Reveal that he, and not Robbie, is Hunter.
Downer Ending: All the main characters are killed and Possessed!Katie takes Wyatt/Hunter with what appears to be the cult, far larger in number.
Curiosity Killed the Cast: Ben comes into the house while there's (apparently) no one home, and stays long enough to hear noises upstairs. He decides to investigate, which causes him to stay and leave cult-related reading material on Alex's computer. Cue Katie...
Daylight Horror: Many small scares occur during the day. Then Alex's mother and Ben are killed in the early afternoon.
Falling Chandelier of Doom: One falls in front of Alex while she's walking in her house investigating odd noises. When she looks up she sees Robbie looking at her.
Flat Character: Alex's parents exist only to disbelieve her claims of supernatural events. And to get killed by the demon.
Foreshadowing: Robbie tells Ben that his "imaginary friend" doesn't like him. When Ben asks who wouldn't like him, Robbie replies with "You'll see."
The windows of the house across the street are covered up with Spanish-language newspapers, hinting that the owners spent time in Mexico or near the border. Cue The Stinger, which hints at the coven having been there already...
He Knows Too Much: The reason Katie goes after Ben. Of course, other than the fact the demon disliked him already.
From Bad to Worse: Robbie is left to live with Alex and her family for a short time when Katie goes missing. The hauntings obviously go worse from then on.
Misapplied Phlebotinum: Ben sets up all computers in the house to record the odd happenings and goings-on while the family's not around or is asleep. While they do remember to check the footage a few times, most of the truly supernatural occurrences go completely unnoticed. And the events that Alex records personally are never revisited, even when she threatens to show it to her parents.
Product Placement: A pretty creative use though, as the use of the Kinect motion sensor with the infrared camera allows for some good moments of seeing the demon move. It is also the first time in the franchise we see the demon itself, or, at least, outlined in IR dots.
All computers and smartphones are Apple products. Ben sets up the former to record video which he then converts into Quicktime MOV files, which he mentions by name.
Ramming Always Works: When Katie and/or Toby try to asphyxiate Alex in the garage with a running car, she breaks into it and, instead of simply shutting the engine off (which would still leave her trapped in a toxic environment,) she backs it up and smashes through the garage door in order to escape into fresh air.
Red Herring: We're lead to believe that Robbie is really Hunter throughout most of the movie, until its revealed to be Wyatt.
The Reveal: Robbie isn't Hunter at all, it is in fact Wyatt, Alex's adopted brother.
Shout Out: Wyatt rides his Fisher Price tricycle around the house, in a manner extremely reminiscent of Danny in The Shining.
Sequel: This film actually takes place five years after the events of 2.
Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The family never finds out anything about what's happening, or why it's happening. The closest they come is Ben finding out "freaky shit" about the demon's sigil and the coven, but nothing more than what we, the audience, already knew about it from previous films By the end of the film, all that has been accomplished is that Hunter/Wyatt has been raised as a normal boy and then broken and reclaimed, the entire family has been killed, and that the coven has grown A LOT.
The Stinger: After the credits, there is a scene in a store of Santería artifacts, set in a South of the Border ghetto. As the cameraman and an unseen companion discuss the store's contents as "witchcraft," the female store owner, dressed in black, comes out of nowhere and says "It is the beginning," freaking out the cameraman so much he and his friend flee. This could tease at a continuation of some form in a "Latino" spin off.