Three Star: ***
More things go bump in the night, but did that include the writer’s head? Prepare to go parallel to the series, in this paranormal prequel
In the 1980s the concept of home CCTV was a brave new world powered by shoulder mounted cameras and VCR tapes limited to six hours’ running time. However, after hearing strange noises in the night, such a niggle does not deter Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) from setting up his own amateur system to watch over his family in Oren Peli’s third installment of the supernatural shocker series. This bare bones prequel might reuse the same old formula to get its scares, but a creepy atmosphere is present as always and you will find yourself scanning the screen for the slightest anomaly, with your chest tensed against the inevitable moment of terror.
Of course, two movies later, many of us have grown accustomed to these scare tactics: easy-to-believe shocks, such as a moving curtain or pan falling from its hook, or even someone jumping out of a closet with a mask on and shouting “Boo!” These cheap thrills still have their place though. After all, they continue to work extremely well! It caused the two girls to the left of me to whimper into their popcorn for much of the film. In fact, they were flinching so much, they even ended up booting the row of seats in front of them. That said, the frights are a little more fun this time, with some innovative efforts having been made (including an ingenious modification to an electric fan) in order to give us something new to see. In one scene the tension is achieved with a single simple sheet. The violent undertones are heavier than ever too, and the being itself seems to appear at moments, suggesting evil energy in its rawest form. Flitting shadows are an unnervingly believable manifestation and is by far scarier than falling furniture.
The bulk of the plot focuses on the friendship between Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) and an entity named ‘Toby’, which, obviously, takes a sinister turn for the worse. As before, the spirit becomes malevolent towards her and sister Katie (Chloe Csengery), to the extent that this likable family has to flee their home. However, this is where the unexpected occurs and it deviates from the original plot devices. Even though PA3 is about the same two sisters, nothing is explained from PA1 and PA2. In fact, the saga is actually complicated by having things added to it instead. In some ways, it almost becomes another film entirely, and there were traces of The Last Exorcist in its rather disappointing ending. Even the demon seemed to be different to the original and I was unable to decide whether this was intended, or not. If the film had been a stand-alone picture, it would have made little difference. The big questions remain unanswered.
And so this apparent reinvention of the plot seems to suggest that there will be several sequels before we get our answers. Such a notion leaves me feeling a little concerned for the series. It would be a shame if it ended up like the Saw franchise, done to death and relying on upchucks of the same old shocks in order to get a cheap laugh.