Paranormal Activity 3 FILM REVIEW

More found-footage chills in the ‘80s-set prequel

Release Date: 21 October 2011
15 | 84 minutes
Directors: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Cast: Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown, Christopher Nicholas Smith

Here at SFX, we know all too well that fans can be scary – hell, we’ve explored the darkest corners of Doctor Who conventions. But Paranormal Activity 3 features a fan even more terrifying than anything we’ve seen before: the fancam.

This prequel is set in 1988, when Katie and Kristi – the sisters whose families were bedevilled by a demonic force in the first two films – are young girls. When their mom’s boyfriend sees a strange shape revealed in falling dust, he sets up video cameras to investigate. Unable to cover the kitchen/diner in one shot, he mounts a camera atop the mechanism of an old household fan.

It’s Paranormal Activity 3’s killer innovation. As the camera pans slowly from one side to another – one pass, two passes, three passes, four… – and you wait to see what has changed, the tension generated borders on physical pain. One of the scariest things you can do in a horror film is simply to open a door. Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (directors of the sublime Catfish) cleverly utilise a camera move that does essentially the same thing, over and over again.

As before, this third entry in the franchise brushes aside such fripperies as a complex, involving narrative and three-dimensional characterisation and drills straight down into our most primal fears. What was that strange creak? Is there something in the dark? Could there be a monster in the cupboard? The results are as nerve-jangling as ever.

Oren Peli, director of the original no-budget smash, couldn’t have made this movie: he didn’t have the finances to fake a levitation, or set the furniture dancing a fandango. This increased effects prowess inevitably means that the film feels a little more like a conventional Hollywood product, in the vein of Poltergeist or Amityville. There are a few too many gimmicky jolts too, as characters play around with prank scares – a cheap Hollywood trick that has no place in this franchise. But the filmmakers never quite over-step the mark.

Certain details are puzzling. The climax (which recalls that of The Last Exorcism), features events of such magnitude that it’s difficult to imagine them being brushed under the carpet or forgotten. It’s confusing that the family never call in outside help (the trailer, which shows a visiting expert having his head smashed against a table by an invisible force, demonstrates that scenes of this kind this were filmed, but cut). It also beggars belief that the family don’t flee the house, never to return, about twenty minutes before they finally do.

None of this matters in the midst of the moment, though, when you’re sitting in a pitch-black cinema, dragged into a terrifying game of Bloody Mary, silently praying that the agonising wait for the inevitable scare will be over soon so that you can get on with jumping out of your skin.

Ian Berriman

Watch the trailer for Paranormal Activity 3 here.
See how many films you can identify in our found-footage/mockumentary quiz.