Genuinely, my hopes were not high. Having watched and reviewed all of the Paranormal Activity franchise thus far, I have looked on as what was once an admirable and innovative idea slowly descended into nothing more than a numbers game, generating more and more revenue for less and less quality…
When the first PA was made, it was for next to nothing, but for the love of film-making, regardless of its potential profit. As time has gone on, the film-making appeared to be less important, the story more confusing and convoluted and with the best will in the world, it seemed like the audience was the last consideration of a juggernaut that relied on them, yet didn’t really care enough about them to offer what they thought they’d paid for.Therefore, it was not altogether beyond belief to maybe give this an airing with something of a cynical back foot. Not for the first time since this series began did I sit down to view the offering, all the while wondering if my life would be better spent doing something else. On occasions such as this, I always end up considering my position on my death bed, as a draw my last breath. How much would I pay to have the time again that I wasted on some of the shit I have sat through in the name of entertainment?Thankfully this ‘cousin’ of the franchise decides to change the perspective a little, focusing its attention on Jesse, who has recently graduated from high school. It is on the night of this celebration at the end of his education that we are introduced to him and his friends and family. Continuing to shoot the project from largely a first-person perspective, much like its predecessors, you are immediately familiar with the PA universe and writer/director Christopher Landon improves upon his previous writing gigs on earlier PA movies by bringing a much needed lighthearted sense of mischief to proceedings in the early scenes. Like all PA movies, of course, things start slow, even pedestrian, and you can be sure that if you’re just there for the scares, you probably don’t even need to take your seat for the first twenty to thirty minutes, as this time has traditionally been reserved for character development and plot setups.
This time does enable the audience to engage with the characters, as Jesse and his friends waste time in the days after school has finished, getting into trouble with local gangs, playing with the dog and poking around in places they shouldn’t. All of this, of course, is recorded on Jesse’s new camera, bought from the local pawn shop with money given to him as a graduation gift. The portrayals of these characters are very good and the actors involved inhabit them completely, making the script appear natural or even improvised.
Things only really start to get ‘interesting’ upon the event of Jesse’s neighbours death. Anna, who lived directly underneath him had already been classified as a little odd by Jesse, given that she covered her windows in newspapers so no-one could see what she was doing inside. Furthermore, events taking place shortly before her mysterious death only confrm to Jesse and his friends that she was indeed at least a little bit unhinged.
If you’re familiar with the franchise (and you need to be, or the latter stages of the film will make no sense whatsoever) then you will know the drill. The format is pretty much unchanged, really, but with a good degree less navel-gazing. Previously, as audience members, we have been left to our own devices somewhat, sitting for long periods throughout each film at an aparently static screen, waiting for something to happen. Not so here, as the fixed point perspective of the camera in question has gone, now being carried around throughout. In this respect, and in the respect of Jesse’s new abilities in the first act, you could rightly be reminded of Chronicle, for example, where the spare character is the camera itself. Not so much a prop, but more an intergrated tool lodged firmly into the narrative.Without giving too much away, you can guess that things go from playful, to awkward, to uncomfortable, painful and then ending somewhere around terrifying. This is not new territory for makers or viewers alike and to suggest that you get pretty much what you expect from this will come as no great surprise. It is not particularly original, but based purely on performance and a pleasant upskill in terms of scripting and direction, this episode may well have saved what was becoming a predictable money-making bore.