Now that our beloved Saw franchise has bowed out after a massive seven films, Final Destination was poised to become the top “franchise in town” at long last. Sadly, it must wait patiently in second place still longer as the recent announcement of the fourth installment of the ever-popular Paranormal Activity series suggests it will continue to dominate the big screen for many Halloween’s to come.
After the media storm that surrounded the first movie it was inevitable that a second installment would be made. Surprisingly, it was actually handled pretty well (which I’ll discuss in more depth another time) and lived up to its predecessor. After a very final ending in Part Two I think we were all intrigued as to where the series would go next. The writers, rather ingeniously, went back to the beginning and explored how the tragic sisters, Katie and Kristi, first met the malevolent demon that stalked them in their later years. A smart move considering the numerous allusions made to early hauntings in the first two installments.
Opening with a tantalising shot of the adult Katie (Katie Featherston) delivering a box of old videotapes to Kristi’s (Sprague Grayden) house prior to the horror of the first two films. The film quickly switches to the grainy images of the girls’ youth.
The film is set in 1988 with the young Katie & Kristi (Chloe Csengery & Jessica Tyler Brown) living with their mother Julie (Lauren Bittner) and her boyfriend Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith). As a wedding photographer Dennis naturally has access to high-tech (for the time) recording equipment so when a bodged attempt at making a sex-tape reveals something more sinister, he sets up cameras around the house in the hopes of gathering more evidence of the supernatural.
As with the first two films the phenomena starts small, strange noises, things moving and naturally there is the staple neigh-sayer in the form of the girl’s mother. However, early on, the films starts a distinct drift from the others that really sets it apart. The main cause for this is the demon himself (otherwise known as Tobi). At first they believe him to be Kristi’s imaginary friend but the vigour in which she converses with him and concerning statements she makes quickly set alarm bells ringing. The demon in this film is more than just a skulking background figure, switching off lights and slamming doors. He is allowed to become much more of a character in his own right whilst still retaining his mystery. While this does remove the subtlety that the first film is praised for it adds a new dimension which in its own way is just as scary. It’s easy for these kinds of minimalist horror films to get bogged down with “did I just see something?” or “oh there’s something there, I think….”. While this film does feature those moments Tobi’s presence is prominent from the very beginning. He very swiftly exercises his dominance, with increasing violence, attacking not just the central characters but any others who happen to enter the family home.
Dennis is a good adhesive for this installment that is lacking in the others. Aside from the fact he is good-natured, comical and clearly cares for the girls he is not the focus of the haunting so he can document them almost impartially (until of course things start to sour). It’s also refreshing that he doesn’t doubt the phenomena as the central male figure usually does. You really share his somewhat detached journey as the outsider of the family without the excessive-emotion and melodrama that the characters can sometimes be prone to.
In the end the haunting become so extreme that even Julie decides enough is enough and they go to her mother’s house. Sadly Tobi cannot be shrugged off with a mere change of location and things escalate into a chilling finale that’s frantic fast pace just screams Blair Witch (with a surprise twist thrown in for good measure). If you give Paranormal Activity one thing, they know how to end a movie.