So the Paranormal Activity franchise has suckered us into a third installment. This series has always offered an excess of low-hanging fruit by way of its presuppositions, scare style and contrivances, but after three films, I think we can effectively track its gender politics as well.
See if this scans for you.
- Men are technophiliac piles of pent-up machismo. In all three films, the male leads are electronics junkies whose spendthrift camera purchases afford us the “found footage” necessary to construct these cheap-ass narratives about devil-dealing (and devil-suffering) middle-class layabouts. Not only is masculinity expressed pretty much exclusively through the men’s monopolization of the tech in these movies (even when they go gallivanting off to challenge the intruding demon to a fistfight or whatever, they do so with camera at the ready), the cameras are also the grounds for the escalating pissing contests the men hold with all these menacing demonic spirits (who are also apparently pretty lazy, but that’s a whole other criticism).
- Women are hysterical technophobes who believe they can banish the bad ju-ju through willful ignorance.Let me reiterate: three films. In three films, we have seen women and girls depicted as skeptics, victims and hosts for the damned. The third one ups the creep factor considerably with [SPOILER] the whole child bride thing [/SPOILER]. But it still seems questionable that we should go three films without a woman as the primary agent. What, women aren’t interested in cameras or mysteries enough?
But okay, I don’t need a heroine who makes ridiculous camera purchases to enjoy my Paranormal Activity films, but it’d be nice if the wives and girlfriends in these movies weren’t consistently shrill opponents to the central conceit of the series–we need to capture the paranormal stuff on TAPE!–and furthermore conflated the two processes (the haunting and the taping), believing if you just stopped the cameras everything would just go away. If that was ever the case (and I won’t deny that Micah especially was a baiting son-of-a-submarine who totally had it coming) it’s explicitly not the case by the second and especially this third film.
That or this family is actually being haunted by foolhardy schmucks inordinately obsessed with hauling massive cameras on their shoulders, and the demons are just some kind of antibody response.
- Women are vessels for evil. This latest film does a lot to drive home that whole pre-pregnancy mentality that these women (and girls) are just waiting wombs for evil, even in their preadolescence.
- “Witch” is another word for “Satanist,” and “Satanist” means dark ritual sacrifices and demonic possessions, not, gee, an actual religion. Glad to see the screenwriter didn’t even do the perfunctory two seconds of googling required of the genre. It’s like someone dug up their old script from the 1990s and scribbled Paranormal Activity 3 on the cover page.
I do love found footage horror movies, possibly moreso than any other horror subgenre. (I don’t do gore porn. I like OH GOD WHAT WAS THAT IN THE CORNER SDKGJDSLK:SASF, not dyed corn syrup and pig intestines. Marble Hornets is good for this, when it isn’t too busy sucking.) But by the third film these movies are just painting in details on an already pretty well fleshed out tapestry. I hated how the second one just seemed clueless about how surveillance horror was supposed to work, but it at least did right by the premise of the film by upping the technological ante (even if the execution was anti-immersive as hell).
That’s what these films need to be. I don’t give a crap about this particular family and a deal with the devil some ancestor made. I want scary stuff caught on camera. My advice to the producers would be to lose the mythos and go back to coming up with cunning ways to seem plausible.