PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 once again proved last weekend that the franchise’s solid fan base would come out in full force for a new chapter on the story, opening as the #1 film at the box office and performing strongly internationally as well. However, unlike its predecessors, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 left us with our fair share of unanswered questions about the new characters we’re introduced to, their motivations and their place in the series’ mythology that’s been expanded upon since PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 with the introduction of a coven of women with a connection to the demon Toby.
Just yesterday I had the chance to speak with one of the film’s co-directors, Ariel Schulman, who’s been on-board with the series since #3, after him and partner Henry Joost made their mark with the 2010 documentary CATFISH. I hoped to get some answers and clarity as to some of the questions that I’ve seen come up since the film’s opening about some of the film’s mysteries and also get an idea from Ariel where the series might be heading next with the already-announced PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 5. Enjoy…
The Infamous Billy The Kidd - Hey, what’s going on, guys?
Ariel Schulman - Hey Billy, it’s just me, Ariel.
The Kidd - How are you?
Ariel Schulman - Hey, man, what’s up? I’m speaking for the both of us today, I hope that’s okay.
The Kidd - That’s perfectly fine. So, since the film’s release last weekend, there’s kinda been a lot of fan theories that have been circulating around what really happened in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 and how this ties into the overall mythology. So I just wanted to throw a couple at you first, so you can clarify your vision of the PARANORMAL universe and people can all be on the same page. So first off, let me just ask, who exactly is Hunter? Because I thought it was kind of clear with some of the comments and how the film built, but I’ve heard different thoughts about the involvement of Robbie, whether or not Wyatt is possessed, and also kind of this childlike figure that gets brought up in the Kinect dots, and how maybe that could sort of be a figure for a now deceased Hunter? So let me to ask you to kind of clarify, if you can, who in the end are we to understand is Hunter.
Ariel Schulman - Ah, okay. So, what do you think the result is... the one that kind of seemed clear?
The Kidd - The way that I perceived it was that Wyatt is Hunter, but under his adoption just takes on a different name, and that’s how it happened. I thought the Kaite comment about the looking like his mother, I thought the kind of solidified it, but in talking to people who are fans of the franchise, it seems that there’s a little bit of uncertainty.
Ariel Schulman - Interesting. So what are some of the best theories that you’ve heard that make a little bit of sense?
The Kidd - Well the Kinect dots one. That’s the one that kind of got me to thinking, when you have that position where Wyatt is talking to Toby and you see this child-figure kind of coming up from the back and grabbing or reaching out for him, people have said perhaps that is Hunter who is now a spirit of some sort, and that is someone who takes possession of Wyatt and that got me to thinking because now we’re at a point in the timeline where we don’t know what has happened between when Katie and Hunter disappeared and now when they reappear.
Ariel Schulman - Sure, anything could be true at this point, since it’s been five years. But! Henry and I have a pretty specific theory of our own which is that Wyatt is Hunter, straight up. That’s the kid that was kidnapped, that’s Kristi’s son years later. The boy... The shape in the Kinect dots that looks like a boy is in fact not a boy. What it is is... that’s actually Toby. That’s Toby in boy form. He’s a shape-shifter, and he can take the form of whoever he’s dealing with so as to put them at rest so they’ll play with him.
The Kidd - Okay! That clarifies it, and I think that makes sense. My other question that I’ve seen now raised... Is the house where Katie now resides the same house as the grandmother’s in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3?
Ariel Schulman - No.
The Kidd - It’s a different location.
Ariel Schulman - Yeah. Katie’s house, where she was residing right now, is in Nevada. Henderson, Nevada. Grandma lives in Moorpark, California.
The Kidd - Okay. Just wanted to get those out of the way so that everybody knows exactly what’s going on.
Ariel Schulman - [laughs]
The Kidd - But my question then stemming from that is, why the decision to offer up very few answers and explanations this time around as opposed to last time where we got fed in the direction of this coven and the symbol and kind of the relationship with Toby and his family?
Ariel Schulman - Right. Well, I think some people will find more answers in it than others. What sort of answers do you think... Because there’s more information in the story to me than there is to some people.
The Kidd - Well that’s because you know the whole... The overall scheme of it, a little bit. You have more information because you’re operating from this position where you kind of have this idea of the story that’s trying to be told. Here, you kind of just have this family that’s brought into it... Now we get the clue as to Hunter being adopted and once again that space of the five years, but it also brings into question... Who is Robbie, how does he factor into it, where does this extensive coven continue to build? There’s a lot of questions that continue to go, and that’s not to say we wouldn’t get answers with a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 5, which we know is coming, or PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 6 that make result afterwards, but I’m just wondering why the decision was to kind of scale things back in terms of what is very forthcoming in PARANORMAL 4.
Ariel Schulman - You know, I think the fourth one is sort of a stepping stone to what’s going to be a lot of information and explanation as to what is this army of women after, and what is their ultimate goal. We sort of know where it’s all going to where we think it’s going to go. The tricky thing though, and I guess this is sort of established since PARANORMAL 1, and certainly since PARANORMAL 2, and that’s that we raise more questions than answers, right? Which is funny because just asking the questions, you start to get your own answers or at least build your own theories. What makes the franchise beautiful to me, and I think a lot of people feel the same way, is that the questions make it more interesting to follow up the film. I mean most movies you just dump everything and that’s it. You don’t even need another one. But the questions, to me, do contain a lot of the answers in this one. And the big question being, “Who is Robbie?” Now, Robbie must have some relationship to Katie, and must have some relationship to this group of women, the coven, who is even bigger than it was last year... Last year being 1988. It has clearly grown. Robbie is... He’s a messenger at this point. The way we see it is that it’s not just Hunter. There’s gotta be other boys. So, we imagine Robbie as sort of a messenger sent by Katie to deliver Toby into the house and to introduce him to Wyatt. Hunter. Because it’s a very sensitive thing, not every kid can “shine,” so to speak. Not everybody can see Toby right away. Hunter wasn’t able to see him until so long. It had been five or six years, you know? And he needed Robbie to sort of facilitate the meeting. And in order to sort of “play” with Hunter, because he wasn’t having it at first, Toby took the shape of another boy, a playmate. So there’s not just... He’s in the Kinect dots when you see him once when he’s coming behind him, but you actually see him in a previous time, too... I don’t know if you caught that one, when they’re playing tag? Downstairs, they’re running around the house on...I think it’s night one...
The Kidd - Yeah, you see the Kinect dots kind of emerge once again on the couch.
Ariel Schulman - No, there’s another one. If you remember on night one and night two, Robbie and Wyatt are running around downstairs while everyone’s asleep upstairs. Mom ends up coming down and turning on the lights and saying, “It’s 3 in the morning, what are you guys doing down here?” There’s a third boy in there. It’s actually very clear. It’s very clear, like they’re actually being chased.
The Kidd - Oh, so now you’ve given me reason to once again go back.
Ariel Schulman - Well, you know... A couple people have caught it. Someone called me today to ask that he thought he'd seen Toby in the dots, because there’s a lot of stuff in those dots that you don’t realize. But he was one of the few people... It’s a good handful of frames, I’m surprised that everyone doesn’t notice it, but just before Mom turns on the lights, there is a full boy running around the house.
The Kidd - Interesting... Well now, once again I will have to go back and see it, because I think the first people really catch it is when he’s approaching from the back. That’s the first time I really noticed him in the form. I didn’t...
Ariel Schulman - Yeah, it was really tricky for us. We weren’t sure how overt we could be in the dots. Like, what would people notice, where in the frame were they looking... so we were really careful about just how much to reveal. And maybe it wasn’t enough at times.
The Kidd - When I talked to Kathryn [Newton], she kind of offered up that there’s... When you’re making these films, there’s really no firm script, there’s just an outline which I imagine covers the overall story that you want to tell, and maybe some of those basic parameters and some of those biggest moments that you want to make sure stay in the film as far as the interaction with Toby. But I know that you guys shoot a ton of footage... She said probably enough to really do like 13 or 14 different versions of the film... so what goes through the creative process in coming up with the scares and the character development and the story to fill in the gaps that are in those parameters, and from there, how do you choose to really narrow it down to get the final cut?
Ariel Schulman - That’s a really good question. I don’t know about 14 films according to my starlet...
The Kidd - But you shoot a lot of stuff to give variety of things to choose from, and she said there’s little variations on the story that you can go to kinda take it in slightly different paths but there’s enough to get multiple different films from it.
Ariel Schulman - She’s a soldier putting up with it and bringing it every day. It’s amazing. Not every actor could be told to do it in in the complete opposite way that they’ve been rehearsing, and then go back the next day and then do it again the first way. I think the reason for that is that found footage is so sensitive in terms of a level of authenticity, you have to just keep trying and winging it and switching the context of a scene right in the middle of the shoot to get what feels real. Like, we’re really proud of the dynamic between Kathryn and Matt Shively and the kids and it just sort of feels... It feels natural. They’re funny without being too funny...
The Kidd - Or annoying, which can be a very big problem when you’re working with certain teenage characters.
Ariel Schulman - Right. Yeah, exactly, they don’t feel like stereotypes to me, they feel like real kids. And I think you’ve gotta like... Just keep going. Keep shooting until it has that variable, whatever that found footage variable is. Because you’ve seen found footage movies where they look and sound like actors and you’re just... You don’t believe it from the get go.
The Kidd - Let me just ask you, then, I know that you said that you kind of have a feel for where the story wants to go. Do you have an endgame in mind? Do you know ultimately where you want this story to finish, and ultimately, without worrying about brand fatigue or anything, how many films it would take to get there?
Ariel Schulman - Well, that’s a really good question. Well, you do the math, look how many women the coven has accumulated since 1988. They’re obviously on the up and up and it doesn’t look like they’re stopping anytime soon. I mean I think they’re just growing stronger and stronger.
The Kidd - Alright, thank you very much.
Ariel Schulman - Yeah, man, that was cool. Peace.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 is in theatres now.
"The Infamous Billy The Kidd"
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