Paranormal State follows the case files of the Paranormal Research Society, a group that once operated out of Penn State University. Like Ghost Hunters, PRS goes to various haunted locations in order to find proof of the paranormal or to help individuals suffering from paranormal activity. But unlike Ghost Hunters, PRS doesn’t even try to be realistic or scientific in their methods.
Research into the paranormal has long been considered a joke by mainstream science and for good reason: in order for science to prove a hypothesis it must be tested within a controlled environment and be replicated. Despite blurry photographic evidence, mysterious voices caught on tape recorders, and numerous personal experiences, there has been no definitive proof of spirits, psychic phenomenon or demons and yet PRS treats these concepts as if they were a given. They enter each situation believing that they will experience some sort of paranormal phenomenon. Every creak in the dark, every shadow caught in the corner of their eyes, becomes proof that the things they believe in are true.
PRS uses the trappings of parapsychology: video cameras equipped with low-light lenses, audio recorders to capture electronic voice phenomenon (EVPs), and electro-magnetic frequency detectors but they have no idea how to use them properly (and worse) they fail to properly investigate any other reasons for the phenomenon they experience. Any time the EMF meter goes off they take it as proof of spiritual activity. Any time they catch a creak, bump or thump on the audio recorders they automatically think it’s caused by paranormal forces. This is bad science and bad research in general.
It doesn’t help that the show plays up the drama of the situation. In the introduction the director, Ryan Buell describes his team as “investigators, and sometimes warriors.” Buell often walks through haunted places ordering spirits to show themselves “in the name of our lord, Jesus Christ.” Many times the team discovers that the entity they’re dealing with is a demon summoned by some reformed Satanist. The underlying concept to this show is that ghosts and other spiritual entities are automatically evil; Ryan and his team are the only hope of stopping them.
Take, for example, the second episode, “Invitation to Evil.” In it, PRS are called to North Carolina to help out this couple who believe their daughter is the target of some supernatural entity. The couple complains that their five-year-old recently began acting up, saying curse words, and nasty things about Jesus. They also say that some entity has been throwing things, banging on the walls, and in general making their lives miserable. When talking to the case investigator, the husband recounts how he and his brother tried to make the entity leave by invoking Jesus’ name. They begin to hear growling and the brother says, “I don’t think it likes Jesus.” Immediately after he says that, the two hear a raspy voice say, “I don’t.”
During their investigation, PRS discovers that the brother had been practicing witchcraft. One night he summoned a shadow demon to impress his brother and his wife; they got scared and break the protective circle. Following this admission, PRS returns to the home and tells the couple that they have to demand that the entity leave them alone. What follows is a dry, obviously scripted moment where the family yells at the demon to leave.
If we’re to believe Paranormal State then Satanists are everywhere. They constantly find inverted pentagrams and other black magic paraphernalia in their investigations, and nine times out of ten the force they confront turns out to be demonic. This wouldn’t be quite as bad if they at least found some evidence, but they base the majority of their findings on their personal experiences and the feelings of psychics they bring in on their investigations.
The real focus of this show isn’t on the paranormal but on Ryan Buell. He constantly refers to himself as the director of PRS, the show begins with his voice-over where he mentions how his own experiences with the paranormal prompted him to form the group, and each episode is peppered with audio entries from his “Director’s Log” where he tends to make overly-dramatic statements on the nature of evil. Even the cover to the DVD case is just a picture of him in profile against a dark, smoky background. This Ryan-centrism reaches its apex in the hour-long episode “Darkness Falls” where Buell takes his team to a decommissioned West Virginia Penitentiary where he experienced the most frightening moment of his career. He constantly hints at his experiences without actually stating what they were; his Director’s Log entries consist of his questioning whether his team can handle the experience. Buell becomes extra douchy when the team laugh when he explains how the last time he was there he heard a woman (presumably a spirit) laugh at him. After that he becomes pissy and tries to put his teammates in the scariest parts of the prison. The episode ends with Ryan going back to the area of the prison where he had his horrific encounter and screaming that he wasn’t scared anymore.
Paranormal State‘s tendency for melodrama and its unbelievable scenarios make this a ridiculous show. I honestly don’t know whether these people are fakers or just incredibly gullible. Certain websites like SciFake and Paranormal State Illustrated make compelling cases that they do fake their shows; I don’t know enough about the show to say anything for certain other than it is very silly and self-aggrandizing. The only positive thing I can say for the show is that some of the concepts would make for good episodes of Supernatural.
Each episode is presented in fullscreen with no other aspect ratios given. Audio is in Dolby Digital Stereo with only an English language track. No subtitles are provided. In terms of quality the show looks and sounds fine.
The only bonus features on this set are additional footage from the episodes. Given that I didn’t particularly care for the show, more of it didn’t really thrill me.
To steal a line from The Simpsons supporting character Comic Book Guy: Worst. Science. Ever.
This show presents itself as a serious scientific exploration of paranormal phenomenon, but actually is just a self-aggrandizing horror movie disguised as reality. Not recommended.
A&E presents Paranormal State: Season Four . Directed by: Benjamin Wolf. Running time: 5 hours 8 minutes. Rating: NR. Released on DVD: September 28, 2010.