(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, dated 22 October, 2011, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/entertainment/reviews/paranormal-activity-3/325901.html)
Cast: Katie Featherston, Sprague Grayden, Christopher Nicholas Smith, Lauren Bittner, Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown
Directors: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Rating: 4 stars
You’d think a prequel to a prequel, in a series that relies on the found-footage-realistic-video device, would be less scary than its first two editions. Wrong. The third movie in the Paranormal franchise, with its brilliant sound design, quaint touches of ’80s America, and most of all, the dreaded combination of children-and-toys in the story of a haunting, is by far the freakiest.
Something about Katie Featherston’s slow smile, mechanical rocking, or confrontational eyes – depending on which version you saw – gave you chills in PA. Her contented expression, of a cat that’s put away two saucers of milk, as she cradled the baby, curdled your blood in PA2. This time round, it’s left to the large, round eyes of the children, and their nonchalantly sinister answers to their mother’s cheery questions, to creep you out.
We’ve witnessed the hauntings of sisters Katie (Katie Featherston) and Kristi (Sprague Grayden) in adulthood. In this story, written by Oren Peli (the creator of the series) and Christopher B. Landon, we meet them as children (played by Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown), and get to the root of the demonic presence in the house they share with their mother Julie (Lauren Bittner) and her boyfriend Dennis the Wedding Videographer (Christopher Nicholas Smith).
Yes, the motif of a camera-obsessed male character remains. Only, this time the camera seems to induce the paranormal activity, rather than the other way round. All Dennis wants is a dirty tape with his girlfriend, but what he gets is an earthquake, and a series of extraordinary events that vaguely justify his taping a camera to every plausible and implausible surface – and running around with another for good measure.
While retaining the signature feature of home videos, the makers of the movie have innovated with a camera attached to the base of an oscillating contraption. One particular incident involving furniture will make you quite literally jump out of your skin. What makes the film the most disturbing of the series is that it is the children who interact with the unseen presence, Toby, and in an increasingly aggressive manner. The process of imbuing innocence with evil is carried out with a delicate touch that is the closest the franchise has got to finesse. And it’s even more unsettling because of how normal the family seems.
Weirdly enough, PA3 has been injected with a healthy dose of wry humour. You don’t walk in expecting to laugh, and this makes the horror even freakier. Less gory than PA2, PA3 makes the viewers work just as hard, craning their necks in a vain attempt to catch the off-camera action, scanning the frame to figure out where the next scary phenomenon may emerge from. The audio effects make you turn back every now and then, wondering whether it was the person in the row behind you whose chair creaked. Next thing you know, an earth-shattering crash or a ear-splitting screech has you shooting a couple of feet up in the air. Watch out for the game of Bloody Mary – a twist will make you grip your seat hard enough to turn your knuckles white.
PA3, for all its kitschy scares, certainly has some of the most iconic scenes in the series, and perhaps in its genre over the last couple of decades. It effectively does what a temporal jump should – fills in most of the plot holes in the first two movies, while leaving room for more prequels and sequels. We finally know why the family doesn’t simply move – well, we find out what happens when they do. What we may never figure out, though, is why the men are so intent on running with cameras even when they’re on rescue missions that will likely require both hands.
But all flippant observations aside, think about whether you’re ready for this. The filmmakers play the audience, and watching the movie can be an exhausting experience. The setting may be familiar enough; but the action’s a different ball game. Hint: It’s not just the night one should fear.
Prophecy: If you sleep alone, you’ll leave the lights on for the next few days. If you have a partner, you may be tempted to switch him or her. If you have children, you’ll stare at them suspiciously. If you’re pregnant, don’t go. Any which way, every nocturnal sound will make you break into a cold sweat, the bird chirping outside will look ominous...hell, everything will look ominous.
Warning: If you intend to watch it, go to the theatre; don’t watch it at home. Without strangers to give you watery smiles after screaming for two hours, you’ll be a bag of frayed nerves. And avoid food and drink – what doesn’t spill all over your lap before consumption, will after.