Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Movie Review: Paranormal Activity 3

Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown
Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
Directed By: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Starring: Christopher Nicholas Smith, Lauren Bittner, Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown

The best horror films are often the ones that make our skin crawl without the director ever having to show us exactly what is getting under our skin.

Knowing very little about the Paranormal Activity franchise (I saw the first film once and never bothered to watch the sequel), I thought this three-quel prequel did a solid job of gradually building tension without ever going over-the-top in the cheap scares department. It just proves that, in most cases, the less you see, the scarier the situation.

Under the assured direction of Henry Joost and Ariel Shulman, the film takes its time setting up the scene for this third instalment -- a rarity in most horror films nowadays, which tend to go straight for the gratuitous shots of blood and gore.

It's 1988 and siblings Katie and Kristi have moved into a new house with their mom, Julie (Lauren Bittner), and mom's boyfriend, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith). Almost immediately, younger sister Kristi starts telling her family about her new imaginary best friend, Toby. Around the same time, Dennis accidentally catches some suspicious activity on his video camera one night. He goes into detective mode and sets up three cameras around the house -- one in his bedroom, one in the girls' bedroom and one that pans over the living room and dining area.

Paranormal Activity 3 is prequel meant to explain why these two sisters are susceptible, throughout their life (and in the other films), to visitations from things that go bump in the night.The formula has already been established with the first two films; yet, despite the "been there, done that" feel of the film, it still manages to spook its audience.The use of an oscillating fan to capture paranormal activity on the panning camera in the kitchen is an especially creepy touch, leaving the audience to catch mere glimpses of strange activity from their peripheral vision only.

Proper character development is often the biggest casualty in the "found footage" sub-genre; however the two young actresses playing Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) give solid performances. From start the finish, these two young actresses -- and the unseen spooks -- sustain our attention, and a consistent sense of dread, from start to finish. It's not the actual scares that hold our interest, it's the slow-building suspense and sudden jolts.

The only real downfall is the perplexing ending that very nearly topples the entire film with its bizarre and unexplained conclusion. It pretty much guarantees a fourth movie is in the works, but the cliffhanger leaves no real clues as to which direction the franchise will go in next.

Although the whole "found footage" trend has essentially been reduced to a gimmick at this point, the creators of Paranormal Activity 3 show that, if used right, it can still rise above average material and produce some genuine scares.