All spoilers have been exorcised from this review
Hallowe'en is upon us once more and, as is now becoming traditional, a new entry in the Paranormal Activity franchise has been unleashed in the theatres. However this time around, as you may well have inferred from the poster and trailer, we aren't picking up the story where the second movie left it, but instead heading into prequel territory.
So then, to swiftly mark out the direction from which I approached this third installment, I'll recap my position on the first two. The original Paranormal Activity I really enjoyed, a fine addition to both the haunted house and found footage genres, with bags of spookiness and as I explored in-depth in my review someinteresting character stuff going on under the hood. Although that said, I do believe it's a better film with the original ending - but of course had director Oren Peli stuck with the finale that the movie originally screened with we wouldn't have had the sequels.
Now I was quite sceptical, if not downright opposed to the very idea of a sequel. The first film looked very like a case of catching lightning in a bottle and I wasn't keen on another Blair Witch 2 debacle. However Paranormal Activity 2 actually turned out ok, and as I remarked in my audio review for Hypnobobs, if we were to have sequels to a movie that I'd have preferred to stand alone, I was glad they had tried to keep up the quality. The sequel didn't exactly break new ground, it tweaked the formula just enough to be interesting and still built up a creepy atmosphere and delivered to decent scares. And while it didn't have the character depth of the first, it did elegantly expand the mythology of the series and I liked the way it craftily continued the story as both prequel and sequel.
And I am pleased to report that Paranormal Activity 3 maintains the high standards of the series. Essentially at this stage of the game, you're either on-board with these home movie hauntings or you're not. Yes, it's pretty much more of the same: a slow build as weird happening gradually engulf a well observed and naturalistic family, with plenty of creeping dread and sudden shocks, and like the second a carefully considered expansion of the over arching story line. So basically if you enjoyed the first two, you'll have a ball with this one.
However although there is a strong family resemblance, there are little differences that mark it out from its siblings. To begin with it should be noted that I could detect the directorial fingerprints of Ariel Shulman and Henry Joost, the makers of the possible documentary or possible hoax movie Catfish (and hear Hypnobobs 39 for a review of this intriguing flick). Now it's not that the style is radically different, just that the protagonists were portrayed with a little more warmth than the previous entries. For example, many viewers had problems with both Micah in the first and Dan in the second with the adjectives 'asshole' and 'douchebag' being frequently bandied about. However, refreshingly your male lead in this movie, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) comes across a very likeable fellow.
Also noticeable is a higher quotient of both jump scares and special effects work. However neither of these come at the expense of building up tension and dread and, particularly in the case of the latter, tip the franchise over in the kind of supernatural grandstanding more at home in the Poltergeist movies. And while there may be more 'boo!' moments, Joost and Shulman also deliver some very memorable scenes of subtle eeriness.
However it is perhaps the closest the franchise has come to the more expected Hollywood horror flick. But in fairness, depending on your preferred mode of cinematic fear, this slightly different weighting may be a positive or negative. Undoubtedly some will say this makes it slightly weaker than the previous two films, but equally others will find it the most terrifying yet. However overall I'd stress the the quality is still there and it's a matter of what style of terror floats your fear boat.
And actually this is something that I find makes the Paranormal Activity franchise very interesting. Let's be honest, normally by the time a horror series reaches its third instalment, we are all normally agreed that the initial movie is the best and anything after is going to be measured on exactly how inferior it is. However many preferred Paranormal Activity 2 over the first and I can see that the same is going to play out again with this third episode - indeed on leaving the cinema I overheard several fellow patrons expressing the opinion that this had been the scariest of the three. So I am quite looking forward to years of interesting fan debates on which is the best.
Now when I heard that they were planning a third entry, I was of the opinion that they should tie things up neatly and make it a (hopefully) solid trilogy. Now not giving away any spoilers, I doubt many of you will be surprised that this is not the case; after all Peli's home video spookery has now supplanted Jigsaw's antics as the annual Hallowe'en horror franchise release.
However what might surprise you, particularly those who have been following my previous reviews of this movie series, is that I'm more than happy for them to serve up a part 4 next year. And there are several good reasons for this. Firstly there's plenty of space left in the storyline, for although there are some answers , it raises more questions. And although this is a prequel it doesn't deliver the story you are expecting...
Secondly this is the second sequel to a high standard that hasn't sold out the principles of the first and descended in a mess of cynical CGI and gore - Paranormal Activity is turning out to be the most consistent horror franchise yet.
But finally and perhaps most importantly, I just had alot of fun watching this; it creeped me out at several points, made me jump at several others and kept me intrigued throughout. I don't know how far Peli can spin this saga but but looking at how the three movies fit together, I suspect there may be an eventual endgame planned. And on the strength of this third outing, I'll more than happy to see what the next instalment brings..
Paranormal Activity 1 review
Paranormal Activity 2 review
JIM MOON, 20th October 2011