Tuesday 25 October 2011

Paranormal Activity 3

Fuzziness and Ghosting

Hi there. Welcome to the first entry in my week long lead in to Halloween. Seven days and seven horror movies reviewed. Hopefully the majority of these won’t be obvious choices you’ll see reviewed elsewhere for Halloween... although I’m sure this first entry is pretty much on everyone’s radar at the moment. I hope you enjoy what you read. Please leave a comment if you feel so inclined and thanks for taking time out to read my posts...

Paranormal Activity 3 2011 USA
Directed by Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
Screening at UK cinemas.

Warning: Sizeable Spooky Spoilers
contained in this review that may haunt you.

Wow. What can I say about a franchise of extremely low budget horror movies that truly are horror movies (big on scare and no blood or gore involved) which are truly successful with audiences and which really deliver the goods while leaving an audience wanting more every time. Well probably a lot, knowing me, but I’ll try to keep it fairly brief.

I quite liked the first in the series of Paranormal Activity movies but really didn’t find it very scary... although the audience certainly did. I admired it for the way it took all the obvious and old horror tricks and handled them so competently (if not that freshly) that it really managed to create an atmosphere of dread. And, as usual with these “found-footage-home-movie-truth-at-24-frames-per-second” style movies... the acting has to be really top notch to make them believable because the lack of, too much, visual flourish means that you need the audience to be hooked into the characters as quickly and tightly as possible... hermetically sealed into the world “documented” by the camera.

Paranormal Activity 2 was, for me, a much better movie and it had a lovely twist up its sleeve which meant that this movie was not only a prequel to the first one (which everyone knew anyway) but also a sequel to the first one, the entire first movie having taken place chronologically at some point between two shots near the end of Paranormal Activity 2. This was a bit of a winner as it allowed characters from the first movie to be in the second one (essentially as guest stars) but at the same time give a little postscript to the events of the first movie... one which begs a sequel... a sequel we have yet to see. It’s a film that really, in respect to the timelines, tries to have its cake and eat it... and it does succeed brilliantly in this. What’s more, the second one is actually a "scary" movie and succeeded in making me jump a few times.

Paranormal Activity 3 is a prequel proper because, aside from a little prologue sequence slotted into the previous two movies timelines and featuring characters from those two, the rest of the movie goes back to the early life of the two sisters from the previous films, Katie and Kristi, and concentrates on what happened to them in their childhood, specifically in the year 1988 (something which neither of them can remember too well as adults, if you remember the first two movies).

There’s a few little negatives about the movie, the main one being that the clichés are truly revved up to the max. You pretty much know exactly why certain things are done and at one point I was feeling quite insulted by the film-makers because it’s obvious why things are set up as they are. For instance, when a character makes a camera that scans across a room in an arc from one side to the other, by fixing it to the mechanism of a common or garden household fan, you know precisely why the creators of this one have introduced this element. Specifically, so they can pan across from one side of the room, pan back and have a shock reveal, or even a series of shock reveals... and sure enough, this is exactly why they’ve done this.

One thing you learn about these particular movies, though, is that it really doesn’t matter if you know what’s coming or how cliché ridden the whole thing is... if it’s done effectively, and with its tongue wedged firmly in its cheek, as these movies are... then it really works well. And I have to say, it didn’t stop the movie from scaring the pants off me... or of the audience who were loud and screamy throughout the entire screening, pretty much (which is slightly different behaviour to the first two, where you mostly could hear a pin drop).

Another slight negative would be that because we are going back to 1988, all the found footage is supposed to have been shot on home video tape, so the image quality is fairly blurry and downgraded... which isn’t great for cinema viewing but it doesn’t take long for the eyes to get used to it so I guess I’m probably just fussy.

There are so many positives to this one though and the set pieces are even more outrageous than the last one. There’s more blatant CGI in this one, to change the facial features of characters as they become “demonised” and all the usual stuff to presumably mask out cables and such like for practical, in-camera style effects... and it all works great. The two very memorable reveal scenes using the fan-mounted camera are great moments... one involving “something” under a sheet where the camera is used to incrementally build up tension through location before a “happening” and the other which involves a brilliantly disappearing kitchen... didn’t see that one coming, actually.

The other nice thing this movie does is flesh out the history of the phenomenon much more. Giving it strong hints of a back story which is very Dennis Wheatley in tone. Specifically, a coven of witches which have presumably made a pact with a demon and who are part of Katie and Kristi’s family. Their grandmother is sinister as hell... and with good reason, as the husband in this movie discovers to his, very graphically portrayed, cost. It seems to be a running gag with the movies that the camera obsessed husbands in these pieces come to a bitter end... and this is demonstrated here to chilling effect.

The trailer for the movie shows footage not actually present in the film and which is, in some ways, slightly misleading. It does, however, serve as a great lead in to a terrifying sequence in the movie and so it’s a great idea to watch the trailer before seeing this one. It just gives you another level of scary to focus on.

And we also get a name to the demon doing all the scarinesss in this movie... Toby. That name will soon become synonymous with big scares, I’m sure, as the inevitable sequel comes to town... hopefully next year. I really like these movies and think a fourth one would be a good thing... if it’s handled as well (preferably better) than these three have been.

One things for sure, you’re not going to be seeing too many movies much scarier and jumpier than Paranormal Activity 3 this year... if you like horror movies, then this is definitely one you’ll want to catch, preferably early so you can see it with a big audience. The audience reactions to these movies are huge and as good a reason as any to plonk down your hard earned cash... if you are interested in seeing a group of strangers bound together in a shared experience by fear. Definitely worth seeing at the cinema rather than on DVD. Give it a go.

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