It’s often not the first film that launches a franchise, but rather its sequel.
Director Oren Peli will be the first one to tell you that he never planned on Paranormal Activity being anything more than a one-shot film. His low-budget debut feature, filmed in his own home, told a contained story with a definite beginning, middle and end. In short, a young man and woman, Micah and Katie, realize that something strange is going on inside their home while they sleep, so they decide to start filming their bedroom after they turn the lights out each night. A demonic entity eventually presents itself, possessing Katie.
A possessed Katie kills Micah. A police officer arrives, shooting and killing Katie. At least, this was the ending to the film when it initially premiered back in 2007.
As is now common knowledge, Paramount eventually acquired Peli’s little movie, releasing it into theaters across the country in 2009. Much to Peli’s initial chagrin, Paramount shot an entirely new ending for the film, designed to allow room for sequels. In the theatrical ending, Katie doesn’t get shot by the cops after killing Micah.
Instead, she vanishes.
After the smash hit success of Paranormal Activity, Paramount’s desired sequel wasn’t far behind. Peli remained on board as producer of Paranormal Activity 2, released in 2010. This time, the script was penned by Christopher Landon, Michael Perry and Tom Pabst, and Tod Williams took over as director of the found footage franchise’s second outing.
Initially unbeknownst to the audience, the multi-camera Paranormal Activity 2 centers on the family of Kristi, briefly referenced in the first film as being Katie’s sister. Surprisingly, Katie pops up at a certain point, cluing us into the fact that this sequel is actually (for the most part) a prequel to Paranormal Activity. Katie isn’t yet possessed and Micah is still alive, but Kristi and her family are experiencing the sort of strange, terrifying activity that Katie and Micah soon will.
If the first sequel makes or breaks a franchise, Paranormal Activity 2 most definitely accomplished the goal of “making” this one. The first film established no real mythology for a potential franchise beyond Katie and her sister having experienced *something* as children, and the sequel uses that limited backstory from Peli’s film as the jumping off point to expand upon the story and deepen the mythology in some very interesting ways.
Why was Katie being targeted in the first film? And what was with that burnt childhood photo in her attic? Paranormal Activity 2 provides compelling answers to these questions.
We learn in Paranormal Activity 2 that a distant relative of Katie and Kristi’s family made some kind of deal with a demon decades prior to 2006, under the clause that the demon would eventually collect the firstborn male in the family tree. As it turns out, Kristi’s young son Hunter is that firstborn male, making her and her family the initial target of the demon. And here’s where things get really crazy, and wonderfully mean-spirited.
In a shocking twist that manages to make the original Paranormal Activity an even better, creepier and more interesting film upon a revisit, we learn in the sequel that it was actually Kristi’s lovable husband Daniel who was responsible for Katie being tormented in Peli’s movie! Desperate and fearing for the life of his wife, young son and teenage daughter, Daniel resorts to extreme measures, transferring the demon from his wife’s body into her sister’s home! It’s the family’s housekeeper who tells him how to do this, and the process involves burning a photo of the new host (which must be a blood relative) and placing it inside that person’s home.
Does that mean the noises Katie and Micah heard on the first of their nightmare nights were actually Daniel breaking in and spreading the curse? Chilling to think about.
Paranormal Activity 2 is also loaded with other fun little treats for fans of the first film, cluing us into why Micah wanted to buy a camera in the first place – he was impressed with Daniel’s, remarking that he needed to get one – and even showing us the likely origins of the Ouija Board Micah uses in the first film. He tells Katie in Paranormal Activity that he had borrowed it, and that same board’s appearance in the sequel suggests that it was Daniel who lent it to him. Of course, that only helped Daniel’s insidious cause.
Ultimately, Paranormal Activity 2 catches up to the events of the first film, picking up precisely where it left off in the final act. Katie kills Micah, snaps Daniel’s neck and then steals baby Hunter, once again disappearing into the night. The demon has finally collected on the deal it made decades prior, and new questions are left for future sequels. For starters, what the hell is a demonically possessed Katie now going to do with the baby?!
The ’80s-set Paranormal Activity 3 may be the fan favorite sequel, but it was Paranormal Activity 2 that took an incredibly simple story, cracked it wide open, and made a franchise out of the whole thing. Revisiting the 2010 film this week, I was reminded that it’s in many ways the perfect sequel, both building and improving upon its predecessor.
Most franchises only wish they had a Paranormal Activity 2 to really get things going.