Night terrors – Paranormal Activity 3 review

Paranormal Activity 3 – Starring Lauren Bittner, Christopher Nicholas Smith and Jessica Tyler Brown. Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

It seems the law of diminishing returns applies even to the superb Paranormal Activity series, which has dominated the Halloween season three years running with its cheeky thrills and lo-fi aesthetic. Paranormal Activity 3 doesn’t quite inspire the same white-knuckle dread as previous instalments, but when you consider the current state of the horror genre at large (a veritable grave yard), it’s still the funnest ride at the fair.

Producer and original Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli has recruited Catfish helmers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman to take the reins of his faux found-footage franchise (it certainly doesn’t help Joost and Schulman’s argument that their documentary Catfish was real and not a fakery). The duo does a fine job with the format – fact or fiction, Catfish was still an expertly crafted and affecting film – and understands what makes these pictures so scary: the locked-off cameras that linger too long over sleeping bodies, forcing our eyes to dart around the frame in search of some kind of spookery; the first-person POV shots that drag us reluctantly into dark corners, as if were riding a ghost train around a multi-story house; the use of darkness, shadow-play, creaky doors, and, in one of the best sequences, a simple bed-sheet as a ghost costume. It takes true filmmakers to mine terror from these clichés, and it requires an eager audience willing to submit themselves to the devilish whims of these cinematic puppet masters. This is the agreement entered into by the willing participants, and everyone gets something out of it (the audience – a blast of a time; the filmmakers – a hefty return on their teensy financial investment).

Paranormal Activity 2 scribe Christopher Langdon returns for the third instalment, dribbling out further info regarding the cursed, amnesiac sisters Katie (Katie Featherston) and Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and their life-ruining, other-worldly demon buddy. The way their mythology has been established over three films has felt really organic, although now the puzzle pieces are in place, I’m disappointed to learn of a rather conventional explanation for it all (well, ‘conventional’ for a supernatural fright-fest anyway). The picture takes place during their forgotten childhood in 1988, when young Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) befriended a mysterious, invisible figure known as Toby, much to the consternation of Katie (Chloe Csengery) and her mum’s suspicious, VHS-recorder toting boyfriend Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith). Mum Julie (Lauren Bittner, looking awfully like JoBeth Williams; just one of the picture’s many Poltergeist references) thinks nothing of Kristi’s invisible pal, but, as you can assume, she too will soon suffer at the hands of the mischievously violent house-guest.

Ultimately, the first two thirds just aren’t as scary as we’ve come to expect; save a few decent jump scares, a number of the series’ trademark tricks don’t deliver as they have before. The primary camera capturing the night-time nastiness is attached to an oscillating fan, and though it provides a novel new angle to events, it can’t compare to the stationary recorder at the foot of Katie and Micah’s bed in the still unsurpassed first flick. That being said, Paranormal Activity 3 still delivers enough spooks to make it a more than worthy sequel. One set piece – involving the repetition of ‘Bloody Mary’ into a bathroom mirror – is a genuine chiller (though it’s not the scene from the trailer, which is a nice twist). The final ten minutes is as thrilling as any sequence in the entire saga; a lengthy, disturbing, single-take journey into the darkness, with a deeply unsettling revelation regarding this family’s haunted history at its core. If Peli and company called it a day with that ending, they can be truly proud of the fine – and super fun – trilogy of terror they have crafted.

3.5/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Paranormal Activity 3 is now showing in Australian cinemas.

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