Christopher Nicholas Smith
The Review: I grew up in a simpler time, when scary movies were just scary movies. But even when I was a kid, the horror franchise was becoming a well established phenomenon. These days, you can’t call yourself a horror movie if you don’t generate at least half a dozen sequels, and most are flogged well past the point where any non-horror franchise would be put out of its misery. It’s a little ironic that the genre which gets its best moments from surprising you should thrive so much on repetition, but one idea is enough to get you a career spanning several years. For many years, the Saw franchise had the monopoly on the Hallowe’en season, but it was displaced by found footage movie franchise Paranormal Activity and it’s back this year for a third stab, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Many a horror series is blighted by killing off its villain at the end of each movie and then having to find increasingly unlikely ways to bring them back next time. *cough* Freddy Krueger *cough* PA2 got around this by becoming a prequel to PA1, and in the process attempting to set up a mythology, but also expanding from a single camera to, wait for it, FIVE cameras! PA3 goes back even further, a pre-prequel if you will, and uses the conceit of a wedding photographer in the family to permit a two-camera set-up and a flashy (for 1988) editing suite to be able to review the footage. The sisters of the first two films are back, but they’re young girls and it’s their parents who find things going bump in the night.
Oren Peil, creator of the original, still has a had behind the scenes, but it’s the makers of documentary Catfish, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, on directing duties this time. Katie Featherston, star of the series, is back but only for a brief intro thanks to the format. Don’t be fooled into thinking that these changes in personnel will bring anything new to the franchise, though; PA3 is so formulaic that you can almost set your watch by it. The same sequence of increasingly escalating events, alternating between day and night, plays out in much the same manner as the first two films. If anything, there’s slightly less going on here to start with, as the early scares are less supernatural and more a series of “boo” moments as people suddenly appear in frame.
Don’t get me wrong; done well, those moments still have the power to cause an audience to leap out of their seats, and if you’re anything like me you too will enjoy watching a group of people repeatedly having the bejesus scared out of them. But it’s pretty much all there is here, and while the mythologising helped to keep PA2 fresh, it’s more of the same and it’s starting to make less sense, the fact it’s going backwards clearly not helping. The direction and the performances are all serviceable, but it’s difficult to see how the series can continue to regress from here – if we’re to get to epic franchise levels, then Paranormal Activity may need to move forward literally as well as figuratively.
Why see it at the cinema: If you like people leaping out and going “Boo!” at you. Repeatedly. Or if you like watching fellow humans being freaked out by having that done to them.
The Score: 5/10