I recently sat down to watch the cinematic phenomenon called Paranormal Activity. Not the sequel that’s in theaters as I type (give me a few years on that one), but the original that was shot on a shoestring budget yet pulled millions at the box office.
The film is shot in the same style as The Blair Witch Project — a movie assembled from handheld footage supposedly captured by the characters themselves. In this case, it’s a camera purchased for the sole purpose of documenting a purported haunting.
The story follows a young couple, Katie and Micah, who have that “star-crossed lovers” aura of a newfound romance destined for trouble. Katie moves into Micah’s house and almost immediately her secret rears its ugly head. For her entire life, Katie has been followed by what she assumes is a ghost. This revelation sparks Micah’s curiosity, he buys the camera and smuggles in a Ouija Board to attempt communication. A psychic enters the story and tells the couple that this is not a typical ghost, but rather a horrific haunting in the form of a negative entity: a beast that never existed in human form upon the Earth (i.e.: a demon). He begs Micah to stop filming and not to use the Ouija Board.
As the film progresses, Katie begs Micah to stop taunting the entity with the camera and Ouija Board. Micah offers an empty promise and continues on with business as usual. The “activity” in Paranormal Activity subsequently intensifies due to Micah’s negligence and inability to heed the psychic’s advice. He turns blame on Katie who didn’t tell him what he was getting into when he asked her to move in. She in turn blames Micah for making the situation worse through his stubborn male posturing.
The metaphor is obvious. “Paranormal Activity” is the story of a decaying romance — some unavoidable thing that cripples relationships, the unspoken or hidden aspects of our pasts that we carry with us. It’s the story that we have all lived in one way or another. Romance cannot last forever and sometimes forces beyond our control impact our relationships in ways we could never foresee or forestall.
To me that’s what it is anyway.
Although I found the film to be rather disappointing, it made me reflect on my years as a paranormal investigator. I learned a lot about people during those years, about how we think, the attention we crave, and how we deal with the realities of life.
During one event with the TAPS team, I met a woman from Upstate New York who felt that her home was haunted. She told me of things moving on their own, shadows seen around the home and footsteps. I asked her if she was scared and she replied no. The woman believed that it was her grandfather, who had recently passed, that was haunting her home. Throughout her tale, she began to cry hysterically — fearing that her grandfather was not “crossing over to the other side” and “couldn’t let go of his living world.”
This woman was clearly grieving. She feared the safety of her grandfather; her own spiritual/paranormal belief system caused her to think he would spend eternity in the secular world, looking over his family. She wanted him to cross over. But I questioned who in this situation was having a difficult time gaining closure.
I told her there was a simple solution: when she is comfortable, alone in the home and begins to feel the presence of her grandfather, to have a conversation with him as if he was alive. Sit down with him and inform him that she will be OK, that she appreciates all he has done for her and all that he continues to do for her, but it is time to move on to the next stage. I told her to tell him that her life would continue on, and similarly his would do the same. Tell him he needs to let go and that she will see him again. It was time for both of them to move on.
Three weeks later I called her and asked her how things were going. She replied that she took my advice, sat down and told her grandfather exactly what I said, and the activity has stopped.
Now, almost two years later, there has been no activity within the home. It is quiet and secure.
Whenever someone talks to me of possible paranormal activity, I usually respond with “Who do you think is haunting your home?” The response is typically a family member. Some of us hang on to those who have left this realm for too long, and we create the paranormal as an expression of our loss — it is a need to keep those we love around just a little while longer. The human grieving process is in many ways as mysterious as the paranormal, and the power of the human brain to house or heal emotional pain cannot effectively be quantified.
And if my good friend and former client in New York sat down at the kitchen table and talked to nobody, does it really matter? Perhaps she needed to hear herself say those words more than the deceased.