Taking us back to the activity which begat the paranormal activity of the first two films we have Catfish directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman serving us an 80s set prequel which sets out to explore the origins of the evil spirit which plagues sisters Katie and Kristi in Oren Peli’s 2007 found footage cash cow and its sequel.
This time around we’re following the footage shot by the girls’ father who is a wedding video producer, which handily explains the profusion of cameras, then as spooky happenings begin to happen the footage yields unexplained results and so we go and so we go on. You know how this goes, and so does everyone else.
Taking us back to show how and why the hauntings began is perhaps the only fertile ground left to the PA people, and while they make good on that promise and throw in a number of nicely eerie moments there’s nothing to surprise or delight. We are all going through the motions.
There’s a decent new gimmick in the ‘camera strapped to a fan’ contraption which pans across the ground floor of the house at a steady pace which gives the opportunity for some well timed scares, but it’s a gimmick nonetheless. The series has reached the point now where a formula is well established and the slight threads of narrative are joined together from film to film in between the scares. The problem occurs when you prime an audience to such an extent that they are second guessing every line, every moment of sudden silence, filling in the gaps, in essence – being scared of their own shadow theatre.
This means that the filmmakers have little to do and it seems Joost and Schulman for the most part stay right on track, deviating only slightly towards the end of the film when a chase through the house and a nicely visceral moment breaks the tension in an instant. Other than that it’s virtually no different to the first two. Wit the $100 million return on a $5 million budget it seems that modern horror fans fear something new more than anything which lurks in the dark.
Here’s the crux – if you liked the first two films then you’ll be diverted by this and completists may enjoy the prequel aspect but if you’re looking for invention and genuine terror then this is the equivalent of riding a seaside ghost train in the middle of the day with Katy Perry blaring out of the speakers.
Here’s the problem. Those keeping an eye on the trailers and marketing for the film will have noticed that the film itself contained virtually none of the scenes included in the promotional material. There followed cries of misrepresentation and fraud and other ludicrous nonsense. While I understand that advertising a film one way and it being another is a little irritating it’s not as if you were promised Bambi and got Rambo instead.
What I do mind is that there’s virtually nothing of interest in the special features – we have ‘The Lost Tapes’ which is a series of very dull moments which were rightly cut, as well as a hilariously misguided advert for the father’s wedding video business. No psychic getting his head banged on the table, no Bloody Mary in the bathroom mirror, no house on fire… A massively missed opportunity which points to another outcome – when Paranormal Activity 4 comes around you can bet we’ll see an extended edition trilogy box set. The price of which will be scarier than much on the discs themselves.