While I certainly appreciate the first two “Paranormal Activity” films, I was worried that they’d be unable to sustain a third installment.
Based on the cut of the film presented as a secret screening at Fantastic Fest, I was right to worry.
The way I see it, these are the cardinal sins of found footage movies:
1) The footage shown is of a quality the filmmakers would not be able to achieve (including lighting, sound, and overall visual clarity).
2) There is no explanation who edited the footage together and/or for what purpose it was edited together.
3) It is not always made clear who is filming and/or for what purpose.
4) There is no reason given for why filming isn’t abandoned when life threatening situations begin.
5) Once a character has irrefutable video evidence of something endangering them, another major character refuses to watch it.
Number one is the most obvious and egregious considering ANYONE who has ever watched a VHS tape knows recording in EP mode does not produce pristine HD 16×9 widescreen footage with excellent sound.
Yes, if the movie was entirely in 4:3, blurry, and with random tracking lines added for effect it may get old quickly, but at least it would show integrity towards its sub-genre. Yes, by choosing the more palatable visual option they are actually completely undercutting any added effect the found footage trappings would otherwise bring. Unlike the first two, no one could ever mistake this for real footage. The filmmakers have officially conceded that YES, it is nothing more than a gimmick and a formula.
Despite this, the damn thing works. Mostly. Formula or not, the scares are there in greater frequency and intensity. It ups the ante in the grand tradition of horror sequels, despite showing events nearly two decades before those of the first film.
It follows Katie and Kristi, the sisters from the earlier films, as young girls. They live with their mother (Lauren Bittner) and her boyfriend in a new house. He’s a videograper working mostly at weddings, so its natural for him to want to capture the strange phenomena, including Kristi’s communication with an imaginary friend.
Of course things escalate from doors slamming to people being thrown around violently, and there’s a dark secret behind what is causing all the activity of the paranormal variety. Can they figure out how to stop it before it’s too late?
The formula is painfully obvious, but there is enough unique action here to be satisfying to those hoping for more of the same. While the film does not aspire for realism when it comes to the footage itself, the performances are naturalistic, with the young girl who plays Kristi giving a realistic performance as an eight-year-old who doesn’t quite know how to act when there’s a camera pointed at her.
The directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, who previously made the “documentary” “Catfish”, do a serviceable job faking reality for a second time, if the allegations about that film are true.
Based on the fact that nearly half the footage from the most recent trailer does not appear in the cut of the film we saw and directly conflicts with the dramatic action present otherwise, it wouldn’t surprise me if the theatrical cut winds up being dramatically different. Trailers are promises. While it’s OK for elements of deleted scenes to appear, its rare for them to make reference to completely different and unused plot developments.
I’m really curious how the public will feel about the movie differing so dramatically if the Fantastic Fest cut is the final one. I’m even more curious about where they go from here.
Hey producers of “Paranormal Activity 4,” here’s a free idea. Set it in 2006, and make it about the hunt for Katie after the first two films. You could have a squad car filming a “Cops” like show accidentally run into her, along with a separate crew for a reality show that looks into well… “paranormal activity.” They’ve seen bootlegs of the footage assembled by police, the very footage that constitutes the first three movies. I think that could be fun and inject some new life into this franchise. It needs it.