Review: Paranormal Activity 3 (15) / Directed by: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman/ Screenplay by: Christopher B Landon/ Starring: Sprague Graydon, Christopher Nicholas Smith, Lauren Bittner, Kate Featherston
With the ‘Saw’ saga having lost its teeth long before it rolled out its seventh and final instalment last year, the ‘Final Destination’ series stuck in a loop and the ‘Scream’ reboot dead in the water, it looks as if the ‘Paranormal Activity’ franchise is our last, best hope for a decent long-running horror series. But this latest effort, the second sequel to the surprise low-fi horror hit of 2009, really seems to run the idea into the ground and take it as far as it can reasonably go without stretching the audience’s credibility to breaking point and beyond. It’s bloody scary all the same…
You’ll recall how the original ‘Paranormal Activity’ popularised (to the point where it’s starting to wear out its welcome now) the modern ‘found footage’ movie-making fad which in its basest form allows Hollywood to foist cheap films onto the public under the pretence of “ooh, look, this was made by people who were there, it might even be real…” The first film introduced us to Katie (Kate Featherston) and Micah (Micah Stoat) who are being troubled by unexplained occurrences in their new home. Micah sets up elaborate camera-recording equipment to film their bedroom at night and the film tingled our spines with banging doors, thudding and rumbling sounds, dusty footprints, all building up to an intense and disturbing conclusion. Last year’s sequel was more of the same but, strangely, dialled down a little. Katie’s sister Kristi (Grayden), her husband Daniel (Brian Boland) and their kids move in to a house in Carslbad, California and after what they assume to be break-in they install CCT cameras for their own security. But the cameras reveal something sinister and supernatural is at work. Less in-your-face and yet equally as suspenseful as the first film, ’Paranormal Activity 2’ offered no explanations but clearly suggested that whatever phenomenon is at work here, it’s something to do with the two sisters. This third movie takes us back to 1988, when Katie and Kristi were children themselves and, with rather more primitive technology, their stepfather Dennis (Smith) records night-time activity around the house and in the girls’ bedroom. And this time the scary gloves are off because this is seriously creepy stuff, at one point hair-rising in a very literal sense.
The spirit which manifests itself to young Katie and calls itself ‘Toby’ is very angry and restless indeed and Dennis is soon gawping at videotaped footage of Katie climbing out of bed and having whispered conversations with something unseen and a quilt with a mind of its own which turns itself into a ghostly white-sheeted shape and gives the babysitter the heebie-jeebies. Soon afterwards the house seems to be at the centre of a violent earthquake, furniture hurls itself about the room and during one night’s viewing Kirsti’s bed and then the girl herself are violently flung around. It’s hardly surprising that the audience I saw ’Paranormal Activity 3’ with were screaming and squealing like stuck pigs (when they weren’t stamping off to the toilet every ninety seconds… go before the film starts, damn you!) at every new supernatural shock. Even a couple of early joke-scares have the desired effect, as nervous tension boils over into genuine jump-in-the-seat surprise-cum-relief.
The real scares, however, are left for the final reel when the family, not unreasonably, abandon their home when all the kitchen utensils and cabinets are lifted into the air and come crashing down and the family flee to Kirsti’s mother‘s house. But even here they aren’t safe as we soon realise that it’s not the house that’s the trouble, it’s the girls. Mysterious possession, a snarling devil-child and a shadowy figure lurking in the darkness are waiting in store at dead of night…
‘Paranormal Activity 3’, directed by the Joost-Schulman partnership which impressed with ‘Catfish’ a couple of years ago, takes us back to the first movie with much more explicit supernatural shenanigans and a palpable sense of nervy dread throughout the film’s brief eighty-odd minute running time. Performances from another cast of unknowns are suitably-naturalistic and the film’s at its best when we’re staring at a video-camera image waiting for something or someone to appear in anticipation of that heart-stopping moment when something happens that we didn’t see coming. Considering it's set in 1988 and filmed with ‘clumsier’ equipment, the film has a more ‘directed’ look than either of its predecessors and there are a few unlikely footage setups that the script could scarcely avoid if the plot was to move in the required direction.
Three films in and ‘Paranormal Activity’ is still capable of delivering that delicious thrill of fear of the unknown which less subtle current slashers and torture porn movies can’t replicate because there’s nothing left unshown, nowhere for the imagination to run riot. ‘Paranormal Activity 3’, like its predecessors, taps into the very core of our terror of something we can neither see nor understand, something which reason tells us is impossible despite the fact it’s happening right before our eyes. It’s rare for a horror series to maintain its credibility and its reputation three films down the lines and I’m not sure where a fourth movie could take us, but as Halloween approaches there’s not likely to be a better film out there this year if you want a few cheap thrills and a good old shriek.
Expected rating: 6 out of 10
‘Paranormal Activity 3’ is now haunting cinemas all over the UK.