Why would Christians watch a film like Paranormal Activity? The fourth installment, released in theaters on Oct. 19, 2012, continues the story of demon possession unnervingly begun in the first three.
The plot revolves around a young boy named Hunter, whom a demon claims in return for the wealth granted to his ancestors through a deal made by his great-grandmother. Because the story unfolds from a first-person camera perspective, the audience feels as though they participate in the action. In the most extreme moments of the film, the tunnel vision of the camera compounds the audience’s terror, preventing awareness of objects to the right, left, and behind. Following the tradition of the previous films, the fourth installment commences with ordinary events in the lives of the characters, but its seemingly benign quality shatters once the ‘paranormal activity’ begins.
It is this element that differentiates Paranormal Activity from other horror films. While conventional motion pictures in the horror genre contain other-worldly appearances and gore to an outrageous degree, this series fuses horror with reality. Its connection to a family in a specific time and place (Carlsbad, CA), as well as its documentary-style storytelling, produces trepidation in the audience not triggered by other films. The absence of gore further promotes its effectiveness as a horror film. Rather than appalling the audience with obvious ingredients of alarm or disgust, it causes dread to creep into the mind, climaxing in the moments of utmost terror.
Many Christians repudiate films like Paranormal Activity, or enjoy them with a feeling of guilt. Both of these reactions exhibit a misguided attitude. Adherents of the first claim that this type of film creates an unnecessary fear of demons. They are actually correct, because the fear of demons produced by the film is exactly that–unnecessary. It shows that we need not fear demonic forces because the LORD is greater, and it challenges us to place our trust in him. Viewing this film sharpens our faith in God as we expand our minds and interact with media commonly regarded by Christians as taboo. Many Christians do not adequately appreciate the reality of Satan and the spiritual warfare in which we are called to participate. When a phenomenon as fearful as demon possession confronts us, especially the idea that it could occur in our own culture, we gain a more substantial appreciation of God’s authority over the forces of darkness. Too often we forget the immense power of God and how he calls us to follow him. He is available every moment to be our Father and Comforter, but we do not realize this fact enough.
While individuals who behave according to the first reaction usually have not viewed the film, but reject anything of its kind, those in the second group have seen it. They agree with the claims of the first reaction, at least in theory. However, they fail to experience the complete aversion to the film that (according to the first group) they should. They regard the film as thrilling, yet inherently wrong–and thus it becomes a guilty pleasure.
Both wrong reactions fail to see the artistic and thematic elements in the film that exist in any secular work of art. Paranormal Activity Four engages the audience in a skillful manner and presents themes to which the audience can relate. Luke Walls, a sophomore at Providence Christian College, affirms: “It’s just thrilling, and it has you thinking throughout the entire movie…the way it’s presented makes you feel like you’re a part of it.” The theme of broken family relationships occurs at various points during the film. From the perspective of the female teenager, her parents’ marital failure is absurd, but Christians understand this fragmented situation as a consequence of the Fall.
However, the most significant distinctive of Paranormal Activity Four is its ability to produce fear. Yet what is fear, and how can a film create it? Like other emotions, fear can be artistically produced. Sadness, anger, apprehensiveness, and joy often result from film productions for the purpose of entertainment. Fear can be described as uneasiness or terror that exists because of a real or perceived threat. Within limits, it produces an enjoyable experience for film audiences. The rush of adrenaline that accompanies fear exhilarates the viewer in the same way that any trepidatious movie does. Most people enjoy films that stimulate fear or apprehensiveness to some extent because these films retain our interest the most. Wisdom is vital in determining personal limits to the amount of fear one can manage.
Paranormal Activity Four communicates our responsibility to place our faith in God, exists as a valuable source of entertainment, and sharpens our intellect to seek elements of truth even in secular masterpieces.