Take a minute and absorb that before we move on. Not Halloween. Not Friday The 13th. Not A Nightmare On Elm Street. Not Scream. Not even Saw or Final Destination.
This series — which many people didn’t even expect to see so much as one sequel to, a sequel which many of us initially thought had Blair Witch 2 written all over it, is set to pass all of those other venerable horror staples in total box-office gross after only its third installment.
That’s impressive enough in and of itself, but even more impressive is the fact that, despite looking for all intents and purposes like a one-trick pony, the Paranormal Activity flicks actually are finding new and creative ways to keep the story going, namely by continuing to move further and further back into the past. I don’t know how long that can be kept up — and let’s face it, at some point we’ve gotta have an actual, proper sequel to the first one, so we can all find out just what the hell happened there, but for now going deeper into the origins of the demonic entity stalking the Katie n’ Kristi duo is proving to be immensely satisfying.
For Paranormal Activity 3, brought to us courtesy of the directorial team of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (the same folks behind last year’s was-it-a-documentary-or-not Catfish — and truth be told, their involvement with this film and their expert use of faux-documentary techniques on display here leads me to believe more strongly than ever that their first film was, in fact, made-up bullshit) we’re all the way back to 1988, when our heroines were just young girls in suburban San Diego and the entity-or-whatever-it-is first shows up to start fucking with their lives.
Slowly building from seemingly harmless conversations with an invisible childhood friend the girls call “Toby,” then moving on to the usual bedsheets-moving-and-pots-and-pans-falling-off-the-rack that we’ve seen before (and bubbles in the kids’ bedroom aquarium are this movie’s version of part two’s pool cleaner) before events here actually ramp up into new territory (and the pacing here, while obviously deliberate, still manages to flow along quite nicely and naturally), by the time we get to the final 15 minutes that are supposed to mess you up for life (they don’t, but hey, they are pretty good), even the most anti-Paranormal Activity horror fan will have to grudgingly admit to him or herself that hey, this is some pretty solid stuff.
The “homemade look” conceit this time comes to us by way of the mother Julie’s new live-in boyfriend, Dennis, who runs some kind of wedding video business out of his garage and sets up his equipment all over the house when weird shit starts happening, so we’re out of the HD computer-cam and 24-hour-security surveillance footage era here and firmly back in the nostalgic age of home movies.Several of the most effective sequences come to us courtesy of a VHS camcorder set up in the living room/dining room area that pans back and forth on top of a tripod with a timing device affixed to it. So this definitely has the feel of an old-school hand-held horror — of the sort that, you know, didn’t actually exist because this genre wasn’t really around back then, Cannibal Holocaust aside.
At the end of the day, though, it’s the plot revelations (which by the time they come will have you saying “shit, I shoulda seen that coming,” but you won’t have), rather than the (with apologies to Jello Biafra and Mojo Nixon) nostalgia for an age that never existed that make Paranormal Activity 3 the most satisfying entry in the series to date. They also leave open the possibility of going even further back into the family’s history, although you gotta wonder what medium they’ll employ if they choose to do so — it seems that 8mm home movies of the 1970s/early 80s variety are about the only option left.
Oh well, my rear end will be in a theater seat to see the next one whichever direction they decide to take things, whether they end up delving deeper into the past or finally following up on the events of the first film. Like a lot of people in the die-hard horror community, I was completely underwhelmed by the first Paranormal Activity film and felt it was the most blatant example to date of “viral” hype (of the studio-manufactured variety, which is even more annoying) trumping actual substance, but with each sequel I’m being won over more and more completely. And it doesn’t hurt that the perpetually-annoying Micah Sloat was nowhere to be found in this latest one.
And so ends our annual October Halloween horror-round up here at TFG. Next month I’ll be starting a new themed series that will end up looking an awful lot like this one. Stay tuned and all will be revealed within the next few days. Until then, I wish a Happy Halloween to one and all!