The difference between a Pagan conception of Death or the Hereafter, and that often exhibited by the- you know, non-Pagan types- is seen in two films relatively recent to each other. In one of the two summer animated-movies that blew me away with its “Paganism” (intended or not), ParaNorman presents a conception of Death very akin to that held by most Pagans, I believe. (By the way, the other film that knocked my socks off was Brave.)
To begin, the titular Norman is a kid psychically gifted enough to see and communicate with the Dead; to Norman, there is no difference between the Dead and the Living, as Norman considers that they both dwell on different levels, in the same plane of existence. Sure, the Dead can be scary sometimes- like when they Rise from their Graves in obedience to a Witch’s Curse. But if the Dead are unsettled, often it is because something is troubling them, preventing their easy rest. It might even be possible (in the logic of Norman’s world) to enter a wooded grove, and conduct a seance with the Angry Spirit, in order to make right what is amiss. (All of the three most “Pagan” films of the summer- Snow White and the Huntsman, Brave, and ParaNorman- feature a significant sequence within a Magickal or Enchanted [or Haunted] grove.)
ParaNorman is almost Shamanic in its perception of different astral realms of being- realms that can be navigated by skilled individuals such as Norman. This movie sees Death incorporated into Life, as a Passage into other forms of existence. At its most hopeful, it sees the Dead and the Living working in sympathetic cooperation.
The Paranormal Activity movies, on the other hand, have become a genre all their own, predicated upon the popular fixation upon “capturing” Spooks, Ghosts, and even the activities of Demons, through high-tech recording devices. I saw the first one, which was plenty creepy (the freakiest thing of all was the simple act of a light turning on in the background, which was a shriek-out-loud moment, in context). As you can see from the advert for the fourth in the series (to be released Oct. 21, 2012), these movies prey upon fears of Shades from the Beyond- but without ParaNorman’s synthesis. To the Paranormal Activity movies, the Beyond is something terrifying, populated with malevolent Ghouls possessing Supernatural Powers that mortals lack. In contrast, an understanding of Death in ParaNorman brings Life to its Full Circle closure. Whereas Supernatural Beings in Paranormal Activity are creatures that haunt and bring horror: Supernatural Beings in ParaNorman are those that live in a universe “super” to ours, who at best can advise and guide- a fairly Pagan way of looking at Death, actually.