UNKNOWN DIMENSION: THE STORY OF PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2021)
Documentary written and directed by Joe Bandelli starts us off with a brief history of found footage horrors from Cannibal Holocaust to The Mcpherson Tape, to The Blair Witch Project. We then meet Oren Peli who details how he got the idea for the first film, in this now classic franchise, from his own experiences hearing strange noises in his new home. He details the casting of Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, who then join the documentary to give anecdotes of their own, on filming the first Paranormal Activity on a shoestring budget and with what barely could be called a script. The film then takes us on the long road to its eventual theatrical release, with interviews from various producers and horror journalists, as the film becomes a box office smash, and a franchise is born. Bandelli then brings in a host of actors and filmmakers as he takes us on the journey of the making of the film’s sequels, leading up to the recent seventh film that was still filming when this documentary was completed.
Bandelli crafts a fun and informative look at the history of one of modern horror’s most famous and successful movie franchises from the perspective of those involved. The writer/director brings in a host of talent from behind and in front of the cameras, to give a detailed and entertaining look at how what was basically little more than a home movie, turned into a near billion-dollar movie franchise. If you are a fan of this series, it is fun to see the stars from the original film, and all the sequels, return these many years later to describe their time working on the flicks, and even some honest commentary from the people involved on what led the series into its decline in the later installments. If you are a fan of the Paranormal Activity films and are curious about how it all came together, this is definitely a recommended watch on Paramount+.
I like the Paranormal Activity series. It’s a minimalist smoke and mirrors approach that let’s your imagination conjure up a good deal of the scares and a pleasant change from some of the more gruesome stuff that I love and entertain myself with. But, with a third installment, the question is, can they keep the formula fresh, and your imaginations properly manipulated? The answer is yes! PA3 directors Henry Joost and Ariel Shulman (directors and writers of the indie hit Catfish) take the reins and take us back to 1988 when sisters Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) are little girls and all the bumps in the night began.
And these two know how to manipulate the formula and crank it up, while also adding some welcome humor to the mix. Where 1 & 2 were a slow burn, PA3 starts almost immediately. When strange noises start to occur and Kristi starts talking to an imaginary friend, their single mom Julie’s (Lauren Bittner) boyfriend Dennis (Chris Smith), a wedding videographer, sets up cameras in the house to capture what’s going on and… we all know what comes next…and the makers of PA3 are counting on it. They know we know what to expect and when, and cleverly use that against us. That and they use a fantastic gimmick involving a camera mounted on an oscillating fan base, and with it Joost and Schulman take us on a roller-coaster ride of delightfully scary fun. You literally sit there, eyes darting all about the frame trying to anticipate where the next scare is coming. And Joost and Schulman lure you in every time. In the film’s final act, we do go into slightly new territory for this series and in some truly bone chilling sequences get an idea as to why Katie and family are targeted by this malevolent force. To say anymore would spoil an extremely nerve-wracking and nail-biting climax that is as haunting as it is revealing.
Most of the cast are new and perform well, especially the little girls who really handle their difficult roles with surprisingly strong performances while Bittner and Smith make a very real and charming couple. We like this bunch and therefor care about them. Series star Katie Featherston also does appear briefly as adult Katie, as does Sprague Grayden as Kristi, which helps us better link this with the previous two flicks. The FX are minimal as usual but really effective and the POV camera style still works just fine with a little suspension of disbelief.
A fun addition to the series and while I do understand why they don’t appeal to everyone, I have a good time with these, especially in a packed movie house where horror movies should be seen. The home media release includes a director’s cut that is a bit longer and has some amusing bits added in.