[Contains freaky falling furniture and SPOILERS!!!]
I decided to get back on the found-footage-horror horse with Paranormal Activity 3 (2011), which is actually a prequel to the previous movies, set 18 years earlier, when the haunted heroines were innocent kiddy-winks portrayed by totally different actresses.* Sadly, this means a disappointing dearth of the abundant boobage that was a cornerstone of the first two flicks… but every horror fan knows the presence of children makes any supernatural story 666% creepier, no matter how derivative it might be, which may explain why this was the highest-grossing entry in the series so far! The scenario of a young girl’s imaginary friend turning out to be an invisible demon manipulating her to do its evil bidding has been played out plenty times before in a number of big-name horror classics, so it really should have lost its teeth a long time ago… but somehow it never fails to chill the spine, if the child-actors really commit to their roles, as Jessica Tyler Brown and Chloe Csengery do here. Thanks to their fearless efforts, ‘Young Kristi’ and ‘Young Katie’ inspire far more sympathy than their idiotic adult counterparts, and provide some much needed variety amongst the all-too-familiar jump-scares that have become the series’ stock-in-trade.
It’s been so long since I saw the previous instalments, I can’t really be sure how/if everything we learn here actually meshes with the established “facts” we’ve learned so far… all I could really remember going in was Katie talking about her childhood home burning down, so I’m a little disappointed that we still haven’t seen how that happened… and I find it a little odd that Katie didn’t mention her mother and step-father being brutally murdered by the demon, back in the day. I guess the witches brainwashed her between the events depicted in this movie and the first one?** Hmmm… maybe that explains why she ended up dating a man (Micah!) who was so similar to her step-father, in terms of his dickish obsession with video-taping everything that happened in the house, regardless of his own safety or other people’s privacy. Tch! Nowadays, a step-dad who wanted to put cameras in his daughters’ bedroom at night would probably be had-up on charges, but I guess the 1980s were a more innocent age, eh?
Frankly, the whole “found-footage” conceit seems creakier than ever here, considering the limitations of the technology at the time, but the way they fleshed out the sister’s backstory made it far more compelling than the previous sequel, and once again left me hungry for more, despite my own misgivings. No matter how banal and outright irritating these flicks can be at times, they’re also eerily addictive… my eyes are always glued to the screen, searching for the next spooky shadow or swinging lampshade, while I tense for the next heart-stopping bang or crash… and the final ten-to-twenty minutes are always worth sticking around for, with the bat-crap-crazy denouement making up for all the domestic drudgery in the first half of the flick. I wouldn’t call this series a “guilty pleasure”, so much as a mind-numbing, nerve-jangling narcotic that I can’t seem to quit!
* Katie Featherston and Sprague Grayden do appear in a short prologue sequence, to provide a little context for the old-timey footage… but they don’t get much to do, besides being very cute and charming.
** After I wrote this post I found a handy summary of the storyline (and potential plot-holes) of the first three movies, over at ScreenRant… just in case anyone else needs a refresher!