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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 one day to film the house at night in order to find an explanation for these phenomena and making 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.

This page contains spoilers and tropes for all three films!

These films contains 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.
  • Adults Are Useless: Dan in the second film.
  • Agent Mulder: Katie. In the second film, Ali. In the third film it's actually Dennis and his friend Randy.
  • Agent Scully: Micah. In the second film, Dan, and in the third, Julie .
  • An Arm and a Leg: If one pauses the first movie to read the article about the Diane Mercer case, it states that the possessed Diane gnawed her own arm off while restrained.
  • Asshole Victim: Micah and Dan, to some degree (if you hold him accountable for the passing of the demon to Katie).
  • Bedsheet Ghost: Surprisingly played straight in the third film.
  • 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.
  • Bullying A Demon: Micah goes out of his way to antagonize an invisible demon. This proves foolish.
  • Camera Abuse: A trademark of the film.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Katie does this one time when waking up. Ali does this in the second one as well.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Cutting Off the Branches: The sequel naturally confirms the wide-release theatrical cut's ending as canon.
  • Deal with the Devil: Never completely confirmed, but heavily implied that this is the ultimate source of the haunting.
  • Demonic Possession: It's suggested that in the first half of the movie Katie is possessed with 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. 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.
  • Determinator: Dennis in the third film, who really does give it his all to get out of that house at the end.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: Almost the entire movie qualifies as this.
  • Downer Ending: Regardless of what ending you get, 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.
  • Dueling Movies: With The Fourth Kind for the first movie and Saw VII for the second movie.
  • The Eighties: Paranormal Activity 3 is set in 1988 and really does have quite an 80's feel.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Guess.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: The family protagonizing the sequel owns one.
  • 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.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Possession, and whatever it is the demon plans to do if it gets the baby.
  • Foot Focus: The girls are barefoot for most of the second film. Mostly justified in that the story occurs during summer, but then there is the scene with Ali painting her toenails.
    • The first movie has an unusual instance of this trope being character driven. Micah thinks Katie's feet are cute. Also, there's a Foot Focus on both sexes.
  • Foreshadowing: 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.
    • 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.
    • The damage to the photo of Katie and Micah in the first film - Micah's face is scratched, Katie's isn't. Later, Micah dies.
  • For the Evulz: Katie's demon. 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 it would have left footprints if it didn't want to? Do you think it would do ANYTHING if it didn't want to?"
  • Friends Rent Control: At first glance, it appears that this is the case, but a passing reference is made in all 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.
  • Genre Blind: Micah.
  • Home Porn Movie: Subverted in the first and third movies. Dennis and Julie try this in the third movie, but they're interrupted by some tremors from an earthquake.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: As it turns out the events of the first movie are a result of Dan doing this.
  • Idiot Ball: Almost everything Micah does in the second half of the film is obviously counterproductive. In his defense, however, he was 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
    • 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.
  • In-Universe Camera: Played to its fullest effect to turn a Haunted House story into one of the most terrifying horror films in recent memory.
  • Invisibility: The demon. The fact that it is never shown on-screen doesn't make it any less terrifying.
  • It Got Worse: This film can be summarized with, "Boyfriend and girlfriend hear noises. Boyfriend buys camera. It Got Worse."
  • Jerkass: The demon itself. Honestly. The shit it does is what a schoolyard bully or an older brother would do...except for the killing, maybe.
    • Micah, out of a combination of selfish curiosity and being Too Dumb to Live.
    • Dr. Fredrichs in his last scene. He's polite enough, but he does effectively abandon the couple in their 11th hour.
    • Dan in Paranormal Activity 2, particularly when you find out his ultimate solution to the haunting.
  • Kill'Em All
  • 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.
    • 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 sh*t hits the fan, he carries the camera around with him, even picking it up when he drops it when he's in danger.
  • Loud of War: Katie unleashes one in the third movie.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: In the final frame of one trailer for the sequel, 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.
    • In the 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.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Where do we start?
    • 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.
    • Dennis 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.
  • No Budget: The first film cost $15,000 to make.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: What, were you expecting a Stinger?...or credits at all, for that matter?
  • 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.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Julie's mother in the third film rags on Dennis behind his back and pressures her daughter to have more kids--a son, in particular. In truth, her motives are far more sinister than the usual grandma-itching-for-more-grandbabies-to-spoil.
  • Playing with Fire: Implied for the demon; it most likely burned down Katie's childhood home, and then sets fire to an Ouija board for no reason other than to be terrifying.
    • The extended version of the second one 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. Every night-time event takes place before the first movie, except the last five minutes.
    • The third movie takes place eighteen years before the first two.
  • Product Placement: Teddy Ruxpin in the third film. Also, a Sega Master System is briefly seen.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: The exorcism of Kristi in Paranormal Activity 2. Unfortunately, the demon simply took control of Katie and returned to finish what it started.
  • Red Herring: There are several references 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: PA 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.
    • In the first movie, Micah makes an off-hand remark about the ghost putting off Katie's mother from visiting, despite that we later learn she's been dead for years.
    • Although, there's nothing to say that they weren't still tormented by the spirit after the events of the 3rd film, and it's entirely plausible that they moved in with another family afterwards, which would be where the fire took place. Other continuity errors could be explained by the gaps in their memory as well.
  • Revised Ending: This movie has three endings. The theatrical version is the canon one.
  • ~Screw This, I'm Outta Here~: Dr. Fredrichs in his last scene. He enters the house, reads the metaphysical writing on the wall, stays long enough to dash their remaining hopes, then gets the fuck out.
  • 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.
  • Slasher Smile: Just before Possessed-Katie lunges at the camera in the 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, she sports the same smile while holding Hunter.
  • Sole Survivor: Ali is the only one that survives because she was on a field trip the night Possessed-Katie murders her father and step-mother, and abducts her baby brother.
  • Speak of the Devil/Elephant in the Living Room: Apparently Katie, and Kristi have always known of the demon, but just refused to acknowledge it.
    • The third film implies that a demonic cult has been tampering with their memories for hell knows how long throughout their childhoods.
  • Supernatural Proof Father: Dan plays this annoyingly straight for the first 2/3 of the second movie.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The doctor and Katie repeatedly warn Micah against communicating with/antagonizing whatever is in the house. Micah decides to spread talcum powder around, buy a Ouija board, and yell at the demon to do its worst.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Lots of the scariest nighttime segments are in trailers, not to mention the Camera Abuse ending.
    • Completely averted with the third film, in that a majority of the scenes in trailers and commercials aren't in the actual movie. It rivals Half Life 2's box[1], in this respect.
  • Viral Marketing: Used heavily to market both movies. The second movie features a number of viral clips on Youtube.
  • Visible Invisibility: Invoked by Micah, 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.
  • Voice of the Legion: "I think we'll be okay now." Somewhat easy to miss, since it's only at around the "okay now" part.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Abby the dog was last mentioned staying the night at the vet's. Flash forward three weeks, and she's apparently absent for Katie's rampage.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: In any other film genre, Dennis would've been an Action Survivor. Poor, poor, Dennis.
  1. No, this isn't some dirty phrase. Half-Life 2's original box was filled with screenshots, but not a single one of them was in-game.