Paranormal Activity (2007) revolutionized several aspects of the horror genre. It brought on a resurgence of found footage horror following a period that saw very few entries. It established Blumhouse as the preeminent low-budget horror production house, leading to some of the most successful supernatural franchises in the genre. And most important to our topic, Paranormal Activity brought back the particular fear of a demonic haunting.
The Story of Paranormal Activity
For those unfamiliar, the Paranormal Activity franchise, as a whole, follows a coven of witches known as the Midwives whose goal it is to usher in a new world order with a demon known colloquially as Toby as its new ruler. Their plan to bring on this diabolic age has several phases and are explained throughout the films. We’ll go into detail on this plan later on.
The audience is introduced slowly to this overarching storyline. Paranormal Activity (2007) is the smallest film in scale, and the plots grow as the franchise progresses. In the most recent entry, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015), we’re talking about interdimensional travel!
The most important characters, however, are Katie and her family. She, along with her sister Kristi and grandmother Lois, are the focus of the demonic activity. It’s implied that her family has made a deal with the demon for wealth and power, as mentioned in Paranormal Activity 2 (2010).
The Midwives’ Goal and The Triangle of Solomon
As revealed throughout the franchise, the Midwives are attempting to give the Demon physical form and amass an army of possessed children. While the reasons are unclear, their process is pretty straightforward.
First, we’ll focus on the army of possessed children. While it’s true that Katie and Kristi were both possessed as children, their roles in the overall plan are more than mere footsoldiers. Instead, the Midwives have established an entire network of, well, midwives to, in effect, possess the children while they are still in the womb. The process is explained in Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014), in which recent high school graduate Jesse finds out his mother had visited a “bruja” who is later revealed to have been working with the Midwives. Of course, he later becomes possessed and joins the ranks of the Midwives‘ army.
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The second part of the Midwives‘ goal is more interesting as it has a lot more reason behind it! Receiving a physical form is the goal of every demon (at least as far as horror movies are concerned). When it comes to invoking demons into the physical world, we can turn to Solomon’s trusty Magical Books!
“The audience is introduced slowly to [Paranormal Activity’s] overarching storyline.”
Throughout the franchise, the symbol of the Midwives is shown as a circle within a triangle. While this is described in Paranormal Activity 4 (2012) as a “Hattusa symbol of fertility,” it is actually the Magical Triangle of Solomon. In fact, the real symbol of fertility that Hittites used looks nothing like a circle within a triangle! The emblem is, however, present in our handy dandy magical book of demon conjuration.
The Lesser Key of Solomon describes the symbol’s purpose as, “…the Form of the Magical Triangle, into the which Solomon did command the Evil Spirits.” It clarifies that the triangle is used in conjunction with the Magical Circle of Solomon and should be placed within two feet of the circle. Essentially, this means that the conjurer would sit within the magic circle for their own protection and cast the demon into the triangle at the far end of the ring, thereby containing the evil spirit and allowing for a quiet diabolic conversation.
Though the reason for its adoption in the Paranormal Activity franchise is lost on me, it’s safe to assume that it merely looked fucking rad (same goes for the Satanic pentagram in Lois‘ house)! Regardless, it does make sense in a roundabout way since the Lesser Key of Solomon focuses on conjuring the Evil Spirits in physical form. Of course, in Paranormal Activity, it’s via possessed children rather than magical rings!
That being said, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension does include direct references to the Keys of Solomon.
Perhaps the biggest fault of the Paranormal Activity franchise is the apparent need to one-up the previous film. We go from a meager-budget house-bound horror flick to a special-effects laden haunt reminiscent of a Michael Bay movie. That’s not to say the movies get worse. Actually, the later films hold a lot of the best scares. It’s just that as the franchise jumps the proverbial shark, the rules for the Demon have to follow suit.
One of the most important aspects of a supernatural or demonic possession film is the rules. Knowing what the antagonist can and cannot do and the protagonist learning of its weakness at a critical point are cornerstones of the subgenre. Without clear rules, the movie becomes a free-for-all that begins to feel like a waste of time.
The first film establishes the basis for the rules, i.e., demons are non-human and feed off negative energy. We also learn that demons haunt people and not houses, meaning they cannot get rid of it. The second film adds to this that the possession can be transferred to a close relative. So far, it’s nothing crazy, and the demon has not done more than slam some doors or drop some pots. In Paranormal Activity 3 (2011), however, the Demon really steps up his game, which is impressive given that it’s a prequel. In this film, it gains some pretty powerful telekinetic abilities lifting and throwing various pieces of furniture and a pretty brutal back-breaking kill at the end! By the fourth film, the Demon can turn on cars without the key, and by the fifth, it can give the possessed superhuman strength. The most egregious, though, is in Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, in which the Demon can literally open portals to travel between space and time. This is also the entry in which an exorcism is finally attempted. At least there’s consistency in the fact that it was, for the most part, a failure!
The Demonic Doctrine
As a franchise, Paranormal Activity may not be the most consistent when it comes to the rules. But the fact is, those same rules have become part of the collective unconscious. Sure, many of these elements, such as supernatural happenings at 3 AM, are staples of demonic possession horror. Still, many of those elements had been missing from the supernatural genre for years before Paranormal Activity. Don’t we take for granted that demons are not human and strive to obtain a physical form? Or how about the idea of a demon needing a firstborn male as an offering? Yes, these are tropes form various media, including the Abrahamic bible. But before Paranormal Activity, they were niche ideas known only to those horror-obsessed like us! Due to Paranormal Activity’s mainstream success, these ideas have become part of the global lexicon.
Perhaps the rules aren’t consistent, but Paranormal Activity has solidified them in a way no other film could. As ridiculous as they might be by the most recent entry, we can expect to see them in increasingly more horror movies (looking at you, Hereditary!)