Posted on June 1, 2015

Horror Rewatch: Paranormal Activity 2 & Disembodied Horror

Elizabeth Erwin

Released in 2010, Paranormal Activity 2 provides a prologue of sorts to the horror that was portrayed in the first film. I chose the second installment of this franchise to rewatch because it best lays out the mythology of the film as well as providing far more character development that what we saw in the original film. In a nutshell, the film follows a family that is being haunted by a demonic spirit. When the lead female character becomes possessed, the family takes drastic measures to save her and the baby whose very existence inspired the return of the spirit.

One thing I’ve been struggling with is the monster as a disembodied force in the Paranormal Activity franchise.

It seems like the building of the suspense is disembodied (doors slamming shut, pots falling) while the actual horror (Dan’s murder, Kristie’s murder) requires an inhabited body. The only two exceptions to this in the film are when the dog is injured and Kristie is dragged down into the basement. We never see what happens to the dog and so there is no way of gauging whether the demon is embodied during that moment. In Kristie’s case, I feel like the scene of her being dragged down the stairs is the suspense buildup while her coming out of the basement is the actual moment of horror. So while the demon is still part of the paranormal it requires a body to fully actualize the horror.

I also wonder if the ultimate horror of the film isn’t Dan’s decision to curse his own sister-in-law, Katie, with the demon. His decision to essentially sentence Katie to death is a recognizable moment of evil since the audience can put itself in his shoes. We are unable to do that with the demon, at least in this film, because we don’t know enough about its motivations. One reason I don’t find paranormal horror frightening is because its very nature exceeds human understanding. As such, defeat of the supernatural seems impossible. With an embodied form of horror, the potential victims stand a fighting chance for survival. I’m more invested in their responses because I don’t feel the outcome is already a foregone conclusion. However, I did find it interesting that Ali, who argues against Dan’s decision, lives. It’s unclear whether her failure to participate in the horror willingly or sheer happenstance is the reason for her survival.
One thing that confused me in this film is the idea that talking about the demon gave it power. I understood it to be a pre-destined inevitability based upon the grandmother’s deal with the devil. The justification that the families allowed the demon to get stronger by their actions seems to me an aspect of the human/paranormal struggle within the film. The humans need to make rationale sense of what is happening and so seek explanations (we shouldn’t have videotaped it, shouldn’t have discussed it) when in actuality it is a paranormal event that defies such rationality. The demon simply exists and the human component is irrelevant.

Also, I still don’t understand why the demon waited to take the soul of the baby. The house was empty and it had inhabited Kristie’s body. Why then did it not flee with Hunter the way it did when it inhabited Katie’s body? These types of questions drive me mad but they also provide fodder for sequels, which I suppose is what modern horror is built upon.

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