Full thing at the Herald.

I have a pretty good relationship with the found-footage horror movie. I loved The Blair Witch Project. I loved Cloverfield. I.. actually, I hated the shit out of Apollo 18, but then again I really liked Quarantineand am looking forward to seeing [REC], which I hear is even better.

Yet for whatever reason, I totally disregarded Paranormal Activity when it came at, dismissing it as a no-budget ripoff of earlier stuff I liked. Which, well, it is. But I recently learned it’s also pretty great. I’m a Netflix Instant watcher, and my routine is to throw something on the TV as background noise while I’m writing–movie reviews, martial arts articles, stories, novels, whatever. Most of the time, I only pay attention to a scene or three; some movies, the credits are rolling before I’ve absorbed a single moment. But like The Wild Hunt, a movie I started paying attention to halfway through and then had to go back and watch from the beginning, Paranormal Activity demanded I watch it.

Thus I had some anticipation for Paranormal Activity 3, despite the fact third entries in horror franchises have a worse track record than Lasty from Futurama. And what do you know, Paranormal Activity 3 was much better than I expected, too.

I gush about this in the proper review, but Paranormal Activity 3 ginned up a new found-footage technique that’s fucking brilliant. The main character, a wedding photographer/video-guy, has a problem: his downstairs is too big for his camera to see all at once. (Quick plot summary: he needs to record it because he and his wife have been hearing/seeing some spooky things and he’s trying to figure out what’s going on.) To solve this, he mounts his camera on an oscillating fan, showing him slow, steady, back and forth sweeps of the ground floor.

Good God is that a great idea! And so simple! Each sweep of the camera reveals a new scare–or shows the last one has disappeared, which may be even scarier. Meanwhile, as the camera pans back and forth, you’re just waiting and waiting for what it’s going to reveal on the other side of the screen. Jesus, is it tense.

The movie’s far from perfect. The mythology’s somewhat lackluster (though handled well enough), nothing more than the odd line of exposition tossed off here and there, tied up by an unsettling final scene. And three movies in, the general premise can’t help but feel a bit threadbare. Still, the cast is pretty enjoyable, particularly the youngest daughter and the dad’s friend.

And with a $50 million opening weekend, it looks like the Paranormal Activity franchise is all ready to replace Saw as the yearly Halloween event, which thank god because the Saw series sucks like an automated sucking machine. Paranormal Activity 3 is one I look forward to ignoring on Netflix multiple times.

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