24 October 2011


This review contains SPOILERS. If you haven't seen Paranormal Activity 3 yet, you'll want to wait before reading this. In the meantime, my spoiler-free review can be found over at Movie Reviews.

Having really enjoyed Paranormal Activity 2 last Halloween, seeing Paranormal Activity 3 at the cinema, on opening night, was a must for me. But while I found the first two films in the series to be about equal in terms of quality, the advantage of the third instalment isn't merely the experience of seeing it with an audience- it's also really fucking good.

If you started out being scared shitless of the first film, then perhaps this series has a limited shelf-life. But if, like me, you saw room for improvement from the beginning, the imagination necessary to keep the ball rolling on this series is actually what makes the whole endeavour worthwhile. After the cliffhanger ending of part 2's parallel prequel, Paranormal Activity 3 is a fully-fledged flashback to the childhood of sisters Katie and Kristi, filling in backstory that enlightens the demonic activity previously seen. Specifically, it seems to centre around Kristi's imaginary friend, Toby...

As these films are typified by the experience of seeing them in the cinema, it makes sense to attach the One Mile Review I recorded after seeing the film, as a document of my immediate thoughts on watching it, before I apply hindsight. You can watch the One Mile Review below.

As I alluded in the video, many of the scenes in the film's trailers do not actually appear in the film. For once, this particularly tricksy bit of disingenuous marketing doesn't bother me. Given how the second instalment saw fit to play on audience expectations, built by the first film, in such a way that stretched the patience of many viewers, the supplementary material in the trailers plays with those expectations in a different way- hardly any of those bits that already creeped you out about the trailer are actually in the film. Any disappointment or annoyance is offset by the fact that the stuff that is in the film is way creepier.

The film's main innovation with the found-footage format, attaching a camera to an oscillating fan base, at first appears to be quite a cheap and gimmicky way of extending the verisimilitude that the audience surely must have seen through by now. But in context, the gimmick isn't exploited, and the oscillating camera actually gives way to my favourite scare of the series, and honestly, the best scene I've seen in a film all year- the disappearance and reappearance of everything in the family's kitchen. That scare is a goddamn work of art, and worth the price of admission alone.

I've already confessed that I take real guilty pleasure in watching ghost-train ride movies with a big audience, but the appeal of the Paranormal Activity series, to me, is more than that. The retroactive continuity, of embellishing a film that was always intended to be standalone, was always going to create plotholes, but the history of Katie and Kristi and their family's demon problem is more consistent than inconsistent. The necessary exposition is delivered in an entertaining fashion, alongside the kind of homespun terror that have so firmly captured the imagination of the filmgoing public.

Most importantly, this film has a sense of humour that the other films lacked. It doesn't suddenly tilt into Raimi-esque histrionics, (although certain scenes where Katie was brutalised by the demon reminded me of Drag Me To Hell), but it brings levity to the film in a way that only makes the next scare more tectonic. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman are so assured in their tense construction that they can completely puncture the mood one moment, only to rebuild with a vengeance. I honestly haven't had this much fun with a movie all year.

Let's be honest- the film has just enjoyed the highest-grossing opening weekend ever, for a horror film, and so we'll know before Friday if Paranormal Activity 4 is coming next Halloween. Another thing that appeals to me about this series is that it's not misanthropic or gory, and so I have no problem with its appropriation of Saw's old spot on the movie calendar. Then again, we know that these films are relatively cheap to make, and that they make a big box-office return, and so, some day, Paramount will run this series into the ground.

But I think that my favourite part of Paranormal Activity 3 is how it could serve as an ending point for the series. It won't be the end, but it shows that the series is getting better and not worse. I think it has more longevity than many of those other franchises, even if I think the way forward from here would be to dispense with the found-footage angle, and tell stories within the mythology in a different fashion.

And whatever my problems with Catfish, I think directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman demonstrated enough imagination on part three to merit a callback on future instalments. Then again, the ending, along with their previous film, serves to prove that whatever you want to call the fear or hatred of older women, those guys have got it, and they've got it bad.

Up until Paranormal Activity 3, I had enjoyed seeing the films in the cinema with an audience, more than I enjoyed watching the films themselves. The third film isn't flawless, and it may stretch credulity for some viewers, but suddenly, I really feel like the series has captured me in the same way that cemented the success of the first film. Three films in, the scares must be inventive, and they must be unpredictable. Everyone involved ups their game, and so, this sequel successfully manages both. It's by far and away the best film of the series so far. If they won't go out on a high, I'm quite looking forward to next October all the same.

Paranormal Activity 3 is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Paranormal Activity 3, why not share your comments below? Also, let me know how you enjoyed the fact that it was a period piece, set in the 1980s, without succumbing to nostalgic obviousness.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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