Hollywood’s highest grossing CCTV surveillance simulator franchise is back and it’s pretty much business as usual. After taking countless millions of pounds at the box office (£370 million if you’re counting) the franchise seems like a low budget filmmaker’s dream. A house, a few cameras and some low level, creepy shocks and a hit seems somewhat assured.
The plot itself concerns Dennis (Chris Smith) who accidentally films what looks to be some sort of physical ‘presence’ in the house that he and girlfriend Lauren (Julie Bittner) share. Inexplicably enthused by this, he conveniently sets up a bevy of cinema standard cameras around his house to capture all of the action on film. With the last two films still fresh in the public consciousness any further plot exposition will surely only prove perfunctory, suffice to say that we get a lot of footage of people in beds and people having chats on beds or near beds with the odd bit of kitchen/lounge action. All terribly exciting I’m sure you’ll agree.
But to cynically reduce the film to these constituent parts would be to do it a disservice. As with the other two films it’s all about the subtle, creepy atmosphere elicited by the anxiety of not being safe in our own homes, especially whilst we sleep. It’s an intriguing notion, but one which third time round is not bearing well to repetition and one which ever since the inception of the franchise has been fraught with tedium.
From what I saw on screen I have no option but to imagine that the film’s target demographic is people who enjoy lots of waiting; that, and the occasional piece of action accompanied by a harsh musical chord or two as well. Paranormal Activity 3 primarily boils down to a never-ending cycle of underwhelming jumps, bangs and silly conceits. For example, the scale of escalating threat that the plot requires of its ‘entity’ removed any apprehension from the first half of the film and lulled me into a sort of numbly tensionless coma in which every scene was just a lengthy pre-amble to a chair falling over. As much as I love the intensely visceral thrill of a toppling chair or a slowly closing door (and believe me I don’t) once this had been done ten times in ten scenes I started to seriously lose interest.
It’s not all bad though. If you haven’t seen either of the previous two films the simple central idea may entertain for a while, and the final act, whilst short, still packs a decent punch. It’s just that considering all of the time taken to built tension (and for me at least, boredom) the payoff can never live up to the expectation.
Someone rather famous once said ‘man shall not live by bread alone’ and from this that much seems true. Instead of providing us with some nice meaty horror or some intelligent psychological food for thought, Catfish directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman have offered up a tediously protracted trail of breadcrumbs that leads pretty much nowhere.