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Filmism.net Dispatch May 20, 2014

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I'd like to defend the Paranormal Activity series, because I don't think it gets enough love. I mean, somebody's loving it, because for every $5m they spend on another instalment, audiences return their investment 20-fold. So it's strange that the only opinions you ever hear about it (even from supposed fans) are how lame the series has become, especially after the fourth one.

The Latino spin-off Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones came out in January and did good business, and no doubt the forthcoming fifth instalment will do just as well.

The thing is, no matter how I look at it, I can't see what the subsequent films did wrong to engender such hatred. The first Paranormal Activity was a distinctive idea, effective as a horror movie, and even though you can't swing a cat in a multiplex today and not hit a found footage horror movie, it used to be an inventive approach.

Despite how it appears, stringing found footage together into a cohesive plot where you know everything you need to know also takes particular skill as a writer and a storyteller.

But the charges laid against subsequent movies ('weakest', 'falls apart', 'running out of steam', 'same old' are some of the comments from critics on Rotten Tomatoes) seem misplaced.

Each new movie in the series has contained scares. Yes, they're the same kind of scares from an overarching point of view, but if the horror in each was completely different in tone, it wouldn't be Paranormal Activity. Sequels, as the saying goes, should be the same but different.

The Paranormal Activity franchise shines a light on something sadly lacking in even the biggest budget movies. Each new Captain America, Thor, Iron Man or the next superhero rehash shows someone coming to terms with their superpower and battling some otherworldly creature/beast/force to save the Earth/New York/the girl.

Comic geeks will howl me down for saying this but it's the same story every time, in all honesty. But just like in the Saw films, every new Paranormal Activity doesn't just tell the same tale a bit bigger and louder with more expensive CGI.

Katie, the heroine from the first film, has an occult history in her family, and as lame or silly as you think it is, each new film adds to it. If you want the background mythology to make sense, you really have to watch each film in turn for the full experience.

And what else do we want from a continuing story? We like the tone and characters and want to see where they came from and where they're going. Isn't that what set the new breed of TV apart in shows like The Wire and Breaking Bad, because the whole series was one long narrative?

TV shows in the 80s and 90s were all about upsetting the characters' essential baselines only to return them to it before the episode ended and wipe the slate clean for next week. Movies were like that too – especially horror movies. Think of the Friday the 13th films, each one essentially a remake of the one that came before.

If you liked each new Paranormal Activity a bit less I'm not going to try to convince you you're wrong. In the end this is all very subjective. But as John D MacDonald once said in a foreword to a Stephen King book when talking about the most important element of fiction; 'story, dammit! Story! Story! Story!' But surely the intention to further explore the world is a noble artistic quest?

And when it comes to one of the biggest stories of all time, didn't Darren Aronofsky half disappear up his own reverence for the Biblical flood legend in Noah?

At the other end of the scale was the ace The Lego Movie, that rarest of beasts that wasn't afraid to take the piss out of its own silliness and provided one of the sharpest comedies of the year because of it even aside from the technical achievement.

I also talked to some big names recently, including Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron, both of whom were lovely.

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