Reviewed by GREG KING
Directors: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Stars: Katie Featherstone, Sprague Garden, Chloe Cserngey, Jessica Tyler Brown, Lauren Bittner, Christopher Nicholas Smith, Johanna Braddy, Dennis Ingram.
Audiences can expect more of the same from this third instalment of the ultra low budget horror franchise that has kicked goals at the box office. Shot for a paltry $15,000, the first Paranormal Activity was released in 2007 and became a sleeper hit that grossed some $200 million at the box office. The second film was also very successful, but offered little that was fresh or original.
This third film in the series is a prequel that takes us back some 18 years before the events of the first film. Paranormal Activity 3 takes us back to 1988 when Katie, the central protagonist, is a child who first encounters the unsettling inexplicable paranormal phenomenon that would haunt her in adult life. The hook this time around concerns a cache of old VHS tapes that the adult Katie (Katie Featherston) and Kristi (Sprague Grayden) find. Curious, they decide to watch them. Footage of happy birthday parties has been taped over by far more sinister happenings that consumed the household over a period of two weeks.
The young Katie (played by newcomer Chloe Cserngey) and sister Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) befriend Toby, an invisible but malevolent presence. Their mother Julie (Lauren Bittner) is sceptical about the spooky events that suddenly befall the house. But her live-in boyfriend Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) is a filmmaker who decides to set up video recorders to try and catch the source of all the unsettling events. He sets up cameras in the children’s bedroom, the adult’s bedroom, and a camera in the hallway that slowly pans between the kitchen and the lounge room. Cue lots of loud noises, things that go bump or creak in the middle of the night, flying furniture, brief glimpses of shadowy figures, and lots of cheap scares! Caught up in the spooky events this time around are the girls’ babysitter (Johanna Braddy) and Dennis’s colleague Randy (Dennis Ingram).
Writers Christopher Landon and Oren Peli try to stretch the original material in new directions to prevent the concept from becoming too stale or predictable, and they are reasonably successful. It also goes someway towards answering some of the unanswered questions from the first two films in the series. However, Paranormal Activity 3 doesn’t provide as much tension and genuine shocks, although fans of the series will not be too disappointed by this third instalment.
The film has been directed in stylish fashion by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the pair that gave us Catfish, the recent documentary depicting the dangers of dating strangers met on social networking sites. Their cinema verite, fly on the wall style is perfectly suited to this series and its faux documentary/found footage premise. The pair stick fairly closely to the usual formula though, with lots of passages of stillness and little happening that lull audiences into a false sense of security and heighten the expectation that something scary is about to happen.
Veteran documentary cinematographer Magdalena Gorka Bonacorso (I’m Still Here, etc) also uses lots of long takes that adds to the authenticity of the concept. However, the high definition cinematography ruins the artifice of the film, as do the obviously CGI-enhanced effects. The performances of the largely unknown cast are effectively natural and fit into the documentary-like realism. There are also thinly veiled references to films like The Blair Witch Project, which started the whole found footage cycle. The film’s climax moves into something a little more sinister, with its devil worship gathering more reminiscent of classic horror films like Rosemary’s Baby.
However, the whole premise of one family being subjected to inexplicable bursts of paranormal activity and conveniently capturing it on home video footage three times begins to strain credibility. Nonetheless, Paranormal Activity 3 will make heaps at the box office, and a fourth in the series seems inevitable.