No, I haven’t forgotten how to use IMDb. Yes, I know Oren Peli edited “Paranormal Activity” and Gregory Plotkin edited the second and third films. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about who in the fictional world of “Paranormal Activity” is editing these movies, particularly “Paranormal Activity 2” which I just watched for this first time last weekend.
“Paranormal Activity” was about a couple using a single video camera to record nightly intrusions by a poltergeist. The scale of the haunting and the degree to which their camera was involved made it plausible that the film was the totality of all the raw footage that these people shot. But the family recording their ghost troubles in “Paranormal Activity 2” uses an elaborate system of surveillance cameras to shoot footage all over their house. There are at least five different surveillance angles — the pool, the kitchen, the living room, the stairs and front door, and a baby’s bedroom — plus additional footage from one character’s handheld camera. These are supposedly “found footage” movies, in which the characters onscreen are the ones who shot the film we’re watching. But editing implies an author. So who’s the author? In other words: it’s found footage so who the hell found it?
I’ve been stewing over this for the last 24 hours. Here are the possibilities I’ve come up with, along with the reasons they can and can’t be “PA2″‘s author. I welcome any additional ideas in the comments below. I’ve got to get this sorted out in my mind before I go see “Paranormal Activity 3.”
POSSIBLE AUTHOR #1: The Police
WHY THE POLICE: Both “PA1” and “PA2” begin with similar disclaimers thanking “the families of the deceased” and the police departments of San Diego and Carlsbad, California respectively. If we buy that these events actually happened within the world of the film, then the footage represents evidence of crimes being committed. The films could hypothetically be police-made edits of the “evidence” for use at trials.
WHY NOT THE POLICE: If this is some sort of evidentiary videotape, it’s basically the worst evidentiary videotape in history. Particularly during the early, mood-building sequences of “Paranormal Activity 2,” scenes aren’t edited to show us what happened, they’re edited to make us wonder what happened. The editor frequently chooses from the five different security cameras to give us the most obscured (and therefore most unsettling) angle on the action. One of the clever little mysteries of “PA2” is the family’s automated pool cleaner, which starts every night in the water and winds up every morning sitting on the ledge beside it. We don’t see why that’s happening until the characters finally get curious about it halfway through the movie. But a true “evidence tape” would have revealed the explanation the very first time it happened. Unless that “evidence tape” was edited by someone with a serious flair for the dramatic.
POSSIBLE AUTHOR #2: The Studio
WHY THE STUDIO: Editing with a flair for the dramatic suggests that an anonymous editor at Paramount Pictures — the Paramount Pictures in the fictional universe of “Paranormal Activity,” mind you — could be responsible. The police could have given Paramount the raw footage and let them edit something together. That would certainly explain why the second film in particular messes with the audience in such an overt, horror film-y way.
WHY NOT THE STUDIO: Because why the hell would the police let a film studio chop up actual evidence of an actual crime for the sadistic pleasure of the moviegoing public? That makes no sense. I suppose some despicable person could have stolen or illegally acquired this footage and cut it together, but that makes Paramount complicit in the theft and exploitation of a legitimate snuff film, which is kind of awesome but also makes no sense.
POSSIBLE AUTHOR #3: The Demon
WHY THE DEMON: When I posed this question on Twitter, the most common response, albeit one made in jest, was some variation of “a ghost.” It’s a silly answer but it may also be the only logical explanation. The demon that haunts Katie in “PA1” and Kristi in “PA2” is clearly an a-hole: both films mention that he feeds on fear, and he definitely gets a kick out of slowly and methodically torturing his victims. The demon (call him “Toby” if you want, since that’s the name he’s apparently given in “PA3”) is realistically the only entity within the narrative with access to this material, the desire to mess with people, and the legal status to get away with doing it without having to worry about negative publicity or a lawsuit. That would sort of make “Paranormal Activity 2” a demonic version of a sex tape: the proof of a conquest a ghoul makes to show their friends what hot shit they are.
WHY NOT THE DEMON: If it’s this hard for a demon to steal a baby, I have a hard time envisioning them successfully navigating the murky waters of Final Cut Pro.