out of Five
Running time: 88
Paranormal Activity 3 is an effective and genuinely scary prequel-slash-threequel that effectively expands the story and won't disappoint fans of the first two films.
What's it all about?
Directed by Catfish directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, Paranormal Activity 3 is a prequel-slash-threequel to the popular franchise created by Oren Peli. Sisters Katie (Katie Featherston) and Kristi (Sprague Grayden) - the stars of the first two movies – make a brief appearance at the beginning of the film when a collection of VHS tapes that appears to document their childhood is discovered, though neither woman has any memory of what might be on the tapes; the tapes are subsequently stolen and unspool in front of us in the manner of the first two films, including edits and fast-forwards.
The story takes place in 1988, with young Katie and Kristi (Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown) moving into a new house with their mother Julie (Lauren Bittner) and step-father Dennis (Christopher Nicolas Smith). When strange things start happening around the house (things that may or may not be related to Kristi's imaginary friend Toby), wedding video maker Dennis rigs up a series of VHS cameras around the house to get to the bottom of what's going on.
The performances are excellent (the girls are both heart-breaking to watch) and the script does an excellent job of expanding the story (or “deepening the mythology” in press speak), making it even scarier in the process; as a result there is a fortuitous link with another recent horror film that counts as something of a happy accident. The prequel set-up also has the effect of making the overall story desperately sad, as you realise the two young girls never really had a chance.
Joost and Schulman are keenly aware of what audiences are expecting from a third instalment and they duly deliver some terrific scares along with some inventive touches such as Dennis rigging up an electric fan rotation device so the camera sweeps slowly back and forth through the living area. They're also not above resorting to some brilliant fake-outs – one in particular will have you jumping out of your skin.
The main problem with the film is that they haven't put a great deal of effort into the production design – for one thing, there's a huge widescreen TV in the living room, while Kristi also seems to have a modern-looking computer monitor in her bedroom and the video is also of suspiciously high quality for 1980s VHS.
As threequels go, Paranormal Activity 3 is actually pretty good, thanks to strong performances, some inventive direction and a superb script that delivers some genuinely scary moments. See it with as big an audience as possible for the full effect. Recommended.
Paranormal Activity 3 (15)