Paranormal Activity is one of my favourite “horror” films. It’s actually a close call between that and Blair Witch Project for scariest film I’ve ever seen. I don’t really enjoy “slasher horror” like Halloween or Nightmare of Elm Street and even though the first one was quite clever, I also struggle to see the appeal of multiple instalments of the Saw franchise. What is always guaranteed to scare me, or at least pique my interest, is a “found footage” film.
The “found footage” genre has become one of my favourites and I love watching any film that uses this type of story-telling device. Blair Witch Project is probably still the best example of how to do it but when I first watched Paranormal Activity, it scared me to death. It was also a great example of how to do “found footage” effectively. Simple premise, very minimalistic and a realistic, compelling reason for keeping the camera rolling. The ending (any of the three versions) still freaks me out when I see it, the same can also be said for Blair Witch.
Unfortunately, Paranormal Activity 2 felt like a cheap cash-in rather than a well crafted sequel. Too many cameras, too little original content and a cheap rehash of the first’s film’s “best bits” killed any enthusiasm I had for this series. That meant I wasn’t that excited about seeing the third, even if it was taking the series back to the 1980’s and using the cheaper VHS cameras as the “found footage” medium. It was also encouraging that the creative team behind Catfish would be responsible for the film. I am still intrigued, baffled and interested in the Catfish film so this also counted as a positive.
First of all, it’s a much better entry in the series than Paranormal Activity 2. It has some great original ideas and new ways of scaring the audience. By taking the series back to its simplistic but effective basics, with one or two cameras being used, you begin to rekindle the magic that made the first so terrifying in places. The scene with the bed sheet behind the babysitter or the surprise in the kitchen were fantastic because they were so simple.
The Catfish team also add some great new ideas. Scary moments can happen in the daytime too so as an audience member, you never have “downtime” when you know you don’t have to be on the edge of your seat. Clever tricks are used, like mounting the camera on a revolving fan, used brilliantly for the “blink and you miss it” jump moments that this series relies on. Also the idea of playing “Bloody Mary” which ends with one of the scariest scenes in the whole series.
In fact, one of the most effective additions to this film is the two young girls. It’s an undisputable fact that “little girl ghosts” are the scariest things in the known universe. The next best thing is having a small girl “speak” to her imaginary friend you is standing off camera. The small girl “playing” by jumping off the top of her stairs is hugely unnerving to watch, even if it’s not the most terrifying of scenes in the film.
That doesn’t mean Paranormal Activity 3 is without its faults. The whole “found footage” genre is beginning to run out of steam. Very few films are finding new ways of presenting the genre and at times, this film suffers from that too. As fresh as some of the new ideas are, they still rely on the idea of watching an empty, motionless room, waiting for the “jump out of your skin” moment. The film also suffers from the most infuriating problem with any “found footage” film which is “why are you still holding the camera?!” If I’m being chased by a ghost and carrying a small girl, the camera is the last thing I will be worrying about. It kills the film if I’m more concerned with why the guy is filming this terrifying moment than the actual moment itself.
The important thing is that this film scared me. It wasn’t as clever or innovative as the first entry in the series but I still watched some moments from behind a cushion which in itself is a great indicator of how much I enjoyed the film. If this becomes the new Saw and we get a new entry every Halloween, I’ll still watch if it maintains this level of quality.
Overall, not as innovative or unique as Paranormal Activity but much better than Paranormal Activity 2. The film was still terrifying in places and had some great new ideas which prove that there is still life in “found footage” films if handled well. Still some issues but enjoyable nonetheless. Now where can I buy a nightlight?
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)