directors: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Or maybe first there was The Blair Witch Project (1999), which ignited the fad of hand-held horror films made to look as though they were recorded by the pedestrian cameras of real people.
In the case of the Paranormal Activity franchise, while number two was a bit of a prequel (set very close in time but before number one), number three is set two decades earlier. In the 1980’s.
Directed by the team behind the hand-held documentary Catfish (2010), Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, Paranormal Activity 3 goes back to the childhood time of the protagonist sisters of the earlier films. It’s suburbia again, though an authentically 1980’s suburbia (much detail was given to the decor). But oddly enough, the video technology of the time is given a rather significant upgrade. These images are not the degraded VHS that they pretend to have been shot on, though the cameras that they carry are big and clunky and the video tapes are from a now bygone age.
I have to say, I found that a bit off-putting. In a sense, the style of the films, trying to look like real footage, you need to be as convincing as you can, working within the limitations of what someone might actually run around recording. Obviously this was done at least so that audiences weren’t challenged to watch on the big screen a movie that looked like an old episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos. Though for any sense of verity (which these films have typically traded on for effect), it would have been necessary.
The film expands on the narrative of Katie and Kristi, the girls haunted by evil spirits in bland suburban homes. In going back in time, it strives to tell “how it all started”. And I don’t think I’m giving away much in saying that grandma had a coven. The film follows the tropes of the first two, setting a “normal” family scene, a camera-obsessed husband/father, documenting hell slowly breaking loose. And eventually things go crazy. A little more so than before.
Joost and Schulman to ably with it for the most part. The best sequence being a camera that they jerryrig to an oscillating fan, giving a slow, steady pan between living room and kitchen, which they use to good effect. They also, I think I detected, make a vague reference/homage to the 1982 Poltergeist, oddly enough, a much more effective to this day suburban horror film.
The franchise is now a perennial. A new one due in time for Halloween. I’ve become nearly as tired of faux-found footage films as I am of 3-D. But we’ll see what comes of it.