Friday, November 18, 2011

Paranormal Activity 3

Let's be honest about it, Paranormal Activity 2  - or Paranormal Inactivity as I prefer to call it - was poor. As any horror movie that focuses on spooky goings on involving a pool cleaner for much of the first third of its run time would inevitably be. It felt like a tired, overlong re-run of the far more effective first outing for what is now a film franchise. Therefore, the idea of Paranormal Activity 3 did not sound desperately appealing to me. Fortunately, the makers of that film - who also made the impressive mockumentary Catfish - worked out what they needed to do to get the franchise back on track. And they do it in two ways.

Firstly, they don't slavishly follow the original, but instead play with the audience's expectations. So rather than this all happening concurrently with the original film (as the first sequel sort of tried to do), PA3 is a genuine prequel. And that helps to create some fun with the format. Aside from the (at times OTT) eighties references, the film has to cope with the fact that technology was not as advanced in the eighties, so documenting a demonic haunting would not have been as easy as it is in that day and age. This leads to a lot of improvisation - including using a fan-mounted video camera, which in turn leads to some of the movie's most effective moments.

It also introduces ideas such as the demonic force not being the sole evil force with this movie - something perhaps forced on it by the "revelation" in the previous film about the cause of the demonic haunting, but also a hand it plays well. And it also bucks the trend of having the leading male character being a dick by having a genuinely likable protagonist in Dennis. It becomes far easier to watch a film - and care about the character's eventual brutal fate - if he is basically likable rather than a bit of a dick.

But above all it remembers to be scary. It does this simultaneously by offering cheap scares based on the characters' awareness of the cameras (the babysitter disappearing and then jumping out at the camera) but also by offering some genuine chills and some truly stressful scenes - in particular, the "bloody Mary" sequences followed by the child's chair been kicked across the bedroom or the moment when the ghost/demon cleans the kitchen, only to bring it all crashing down again. The film knows it needs to up the ante in terms of the scares and the same time as confound expectations; it manages to do both.

As with everything, it isn't flawless. Indeed, there are a couple of moments when I positively winced - such as when the camera recorded the dust falling on the demon in the aftermath of an earthquake. And the ever-present problems of the found footage genre were there (why are you still filming this? Why the hell do you have the foresight to record this stuff but not to turn on the fucking lights when something goes bang in the night?) However, overall, this was exactly what it should be - a clever, occasionally scary and witty horror film that can make you jump. If you want more than that, then look elsewhere. But if you want more than that, seeking out the third installment of a horror franchise is the wrong place to start.

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