Paranormal Activity 3 review

You’ve been framed – again

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This camcorder-horror series has a pedigree almost as strange as its central premise: the life-long haunting of sisters Katie (Katie Featherstone) and Kristi (Sprague Grayden).

Part one scared Steven Spielberg so much he wrapped his copy in a bin bag to keep the evil inside. Part two played out concurrently, with various cast crossovers, neatly streamlining the concept. This origins-exploring threequel, meanwhile, was made by the “documentarians” behind Catfish, who have more than a passing acquaintance with the tricksy truth/fiction divide.

Rewinding back to 1988, the film recounts the childhood traumas of young Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown). Kristi has an imaginary friend (uh-oh), while mum Julie (Lauren Bittner) and stepdad Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) hear noises in the night.

A wedding cameraman by trade, Dennis decides to document what happens next on (suspiciously nice-looking) VHS cameras. He mounts one of these on a fan so it pans across the room, revealing and concealing with robotic regularity.

It’s a great little gimmick, capturing that corner-of-the-eye sensation of being watched, and the film is the best-shot – if the least scary – of the series.

Although there’s a sense of (wholly appropriate) déjà-vu, watching people sleep waiting for something unspeakable to happen remains an unnerving experience. Let alone watching people watching people sleep.

Retrofitted in this way, with the girls’ stepdad as obsessive a documentarian as their future partners, you sometimes get the feeling that it’s the camera, rather than anything supernatural, that’s really haunting them.

Dennis means well (and he’s far less irritating than part one’s Micah), but besides a couple of blood-freezing spook sequences and an ill-fitting ending, he’s still a man spying on his own family.

Whether cameraman or chimera, isn’t it time everyone left these poor girls in peace?

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Freelance Writer

Matt Glasby is a freelance film and TV journalist. You can find his work on Total Film - in print and online - as well as at publications like the Radio Times, Channel 4, DVD REview, Flicks, GQ, Hotdog, Little White Lies, and SFX, among others. He is also the author of several novels, including The Book of Horror: The Anatomy of Fear in Film and Britpop Cinema: From Trainspotting To This Is England.