I received a telling email earlier this week from the Mission Tiki Drive-In, which sends me weekly notifications of what's opening on their four screens that weekend.
The subject of the email was:
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 5 W/ SINISTER OPENS FRIDAY
But Paranormal Activity 5 -- the inevitable Paranormal Activity 5 -- does not open until October of 2013. We're only on Paranormal Activity 4 right now.
They got the title right in the body of the email, but I think this speaks volumes about where the Paranormal Activity series seems to be heading:
The parallels between the Paranormal Activity movies and the Saw movies seem to be inescapable. Both series saw (so to speak) a massive hit in the first movie released. Then both series immediately got to work producing a sequel, so it would be ready in time for the next Halloween. Then both series had hits with the sequels, and undertook a basically round-the-clock production schedule so that the next installment in the series would keep being ready for the following Halloween.
It took seven Saw movies before they finally stopped making enough money to be worth continuing. It remains to be seen if Paranormal Activity will get that far, but it's certainly on its way.
The other thing these series have in common is how earnestly they appear to be committed to logically continuing the original storyline. It would stand to reason that when a series gets as far as seven movies in, all it really needs to do is share thematic elements with the original movie to reasonably fall under the same banner. It would hardly seem possible to still be working on the same narrative, trying admirably to work your way out of apparent dead-ends and to continue a serpentine storyline that has long since stopped making sense. Whatever you thought of the Saw movies -- the ones you watched, anyway -- you had to admire how the custodians of the series continued doggedly tying everything together, even four full movies after the series' original antagonist had died.
Just as doggedly, I did watch all seven Saw movies, which is why I know this. I have not, on the other hand, been a Paranormal Activity completist, even though I liked the two movies I did see -- the second one maybe more than the first. I haven't gotten around to watching Paranormal Activity 3, and of course haven't seen 4 as it is only just opening today.
But what I can tell from the trailers is that, indeed, the same character from the first Paranormal Activity, Katie (Katie Featherson), is still around, still doing her possessed night-walking thing. And it would seem that PA would be even less beholden than Saw to continuing with the same characters from the same original events, because Paranormal Activity is more about its increasingly hackneyed medium -- found footage -- than about the particular behavior of possessed people doing spooky things. At least in Saw there was the idea that these perverse tests/punishments were all the brainchild of one demented individual and his proteges, whereas you'd think you could set a Paranormal Activity movie in any home that was equipped with high-tech security cameras. (And isn't it convenient that Katie keeps coming into contact with houses that are so equipped.)
If the critical reaction to Paranormal Activity 4 is any indication, this series may reach the end of its road before Saw did. The current Metascore for PA4 is a tepid 42, down from the 59 scored by its predecessor, the 53 from PA2 and the 68 from the original. (Interesting to see that critics liked the third better than the second. Maybe I ought to prioritize PA3.)
But since when has what the critics said played a role in how long a horror series can keep on procreating? Just check out the ugly Metascores for the entire Saw series: Saw (2004) = 46, Saw II (2005) = 40, Saw III (2006) = 48, Saw IV (2007) = 36, Saw V (2008) = 19 (!), Saw VI (2009) = 30 and Saw 3D/Saw: The Final Chapter (2010) = 24. Not a single one above 50, not even the original. Whereas Paranormal Activity is only just now dipping below 50.
So if you take the tendency of critics to sniff at movies intended for the masses and therefore add about 20 points to their Metascores as an estimation of how the public feels about them, PA4 will be another huge hit at the box office. And maybe Katie Featherston will still be walking around in a trance and snapping people's necks on into 2017 or 2018.