Friday, 28 October 2011

Toby the Unfriendly Ghost

15 – 84mins – 2011
Written by: Christopher B. Landon
Based on characters created by: Oren Peli
Directed by: Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost
Starring: Jessica Tyler Brown, Chloe Csengery, Christopher Nicholas Smith, Lauren Bittner, Dustin Ingram, Katie Featherstone, Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland


[SPOILERS] Ghost? Demon? Poltergeist? Invisible Friend? Fraud? Despite spooling back to the much referenced troubled childhoods of Paranormal Activity sisters Katie (Featherstone) and Kristi (Grayden), this third entry in the supernatural entity series still fails to comprehensively explain what the hell is haunting, taunting and hurting them. Well they have to leave something to play with in the almost guaranteed fourth instalment…

In PA3 we get a peek at the VHS home movies which disappeared from Kristi and husband Dan’s (Boland) basement in the “burglary” at the start of PA2 (reviewed HERE). Rewinding to the September of 1988, we see young Kristi (Tyler Brown) develop a disturbing camaraderie with her “invisible friend” Toby. The little girl starts talking to thin air, waking in the middle of the night and roaming the house to stare for hours at her sleeping mother (Bittner) and stepfather (Nicholas Smith).

At the same time, stepfather Dennis (who, most conveniently, records wedding videos for a living and has a multitude of cameras and equipment at his disposal) becomes increasingly concerned about a number of bumps in the night, and so sets up video cameras around the house to catch whatever it is that is creeping him out.

Directed by the duo behind compellingly ace documentary Catfish (reviewed HERE), this second sequel is just as pent-wettingly scary as its predecessors, and despite largely sticking to the same general premise, it feels fresher than last year’s all-too-familiar first follow-up. A couple of the jumps are contrived from harsh camera edits and nay-saying pranksters leaping onto the screen, but that just confirms how successful this trilogy of oh-so-simple films are at elevating your anxiety throughout.

With dust momentarily settling on Toby’s “shoulder” and the malevolent fiend grabbing at older sister Katie’s (Csengery) ponytail, we do see more paranormal evidence than ever before, but the majority of the frights are still derived from everyday objects being flung across the room, doors slamming shut of their own accord and bursts of “energy” exploding in people’s faces. Like with The Blair Witch Project, it’s truly remarkable how the cast and crew have crafted something so genuinely horrific by showing so little.

With Katie petrified and Kristi exhausted, their mother, Julie, is finally convinced of what her partner has been telling her all along, and they leave town as quick as they can to stay with Julie’s mother in the sticks. But the horror isn’t over yet and some truly unpredictable revelations are exposed in a creepy continuous-shot late night climax.

The one scruple I do have with this otherwise proficient prequel is the lack of cohesion between the shocking final reel and how the sister’s stories manage to progress from that life-changing moment to the present day events we have already witnessed. Returning actors Featherstone, Grayden and Boland do provide a 2005/6-set introduction, but they do not return at the close to properly frame this horrific history lesson, leaving the audience with a lot to fill in. No doubt all will be answered in cinemas next October…

In a CR@B Shell: I went in knowing I’d be petrified and Paranormal Activity 3 more than delivered on that count. A step up from its lazier predecessor, this film isn’t without its flaws, but the fact that such a low-key production can deliver such a potent audience-scaring kick is an extraordinary feat worthy of recognition.

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