Director – Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Cast – Christopher Nicholas Smith, Lauren Bittner, Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown, Dustin Ingram, Katie Featherston, Sprague Grayden
Release Year – 2011
Reviewed by John of the Dead
This is one film we in the horror community knew was coming when Paranormal Activity 2 raked in big profits last year. Obviously it’s climax pretty much left any advanced storylines off the table, and the only option was to take on Hollywood’s newest trendy way to keep you spending money on the same franchise…a prequel. This time focusing on what lead to the hauntings suffered by Katie in Paranormal Activity and her sister Ali in the sequel, we are given more haunting material shown in the same POV fashion that ultimately results in another fun ride for this franchise.
Before the events that occurred in Paranormal Activity and Paranormal Activity 2, Katie and Ali stumble across a box of old video tapes from their childhood – tapes they have no recollection of. Upon playing the tapes we are thrown into year 1988, in which the young girls befriend an invisible guest residing in their home who has sinister plans for them and their family.
I admit I was a bit curious as to how these two girls wound up in the hauntings they were in, and my interest grew with every film as more and more details emerged. Disturbia and Blood and Chocolate writer Christopher B. Landon seems to have helped me out with that a bit, and I credit him for coming up with some clever tactics that made what should have been a repetitive experience a fairly creative one instead. Delving into the girls’ childhood forced us into a different era that made for a different “look” for the film, both with the sets used and especially the camera quality. Overall the events that take place are pretty much the same as the other two films: a camera is set up to record suspicious activities, the activities grow in supernatural presence, and in the end we are given a strong final act that bleeds high tension. The only real difference is the time frame and the fact that we already know what happened to the little girls – they became big girls who got in a nasty fight with a demon – so throughout the piece you have the calm feeling knowing that they are not going to die…yet. Each of the characters involved provided positively to the film, with none of them useless or merely used to take up space. The parents of the girls were the usual parents, not believing the girls at first but then soon realizing that they should have been listening all along. This was especially prevalent in the usage of Dennis, the girls’ step-father, and their mother Julie. Dennis is the one who sets up the cameras (it’s always the male doing so in these films) and in this case it is him who is trying to convince Julie that something is going on. This spousal conflict is pretty much a staple in supernatural horror films, with one of the spouses believing in the paranormal and the other being the rational one who believes only in what they can see and explain – sadly for them, what you cannot see or explain is what kills you in this story. I was very surprised to see that it was Julie who refused to believe in what was going on and it was the man, Dennis, trying to convince her. It was the opposite in the two previous films, so it was a nice touch to see something different for a change. So now that I’ve written all of this boring nonsense you probably want to know about the horror right? Well, I am pleased to say that once again this series has provided us with worthwhile horror. If you enjoyed the first two films then you know what to expect with this one and it does deliver. I will admit that most of the scares were pop-up ones, with some of them a little silly (in a fun way, you’ll see), but in the end I was pleased with the scares written into the film. My only real beef with this piece is the climax, which seemed to be what most people disliked about the films in this series, and given that they all seem to end in the same tone it is safe to assume that that is just how the filmmakers wish to end these flicks.
Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost serve as the film’s directors – directors who made themselves known with a little indie documentary film from 2007 titled Catfish. I was unsure as to how the direction would be due to this two director combo, something we had yet to see in this series, but in the end I was pleased with the results. Their atmosphere is great and they use positive sets that allow for creepy angles for the video cameras to be placed in, and their ability to provide good tension left me very pleased. I am a huge fan of drawn-out scenes that force the viewer to squirm in his/her seat in anticipation of what is going to happen, and those scenes were employed numerous times in this 81 minute experience. We were even given a pretty creative tactic involving a panning video camera on a homemade device, an idea that was used to full potential to provide these drawn out scenes that I just mentioned. The acting performances were fair and each of the actors came off as real as can be (an important element in these POV pseudo-documentary films), but my only slight gripe was the execution of the scares. Their execution of the tension was great, but I honestly felt that the scares lacked the punch felt in the first two films. Not one time did I get chills during this piece, which I received plenty of in the previous ones, but I did feel my heart in my throat at times in regards to the tension they created. This could partially reflect on the writing in that Mr. Landon chose to write scares that would have been hard to execute properly, but I just don’t see that and I blame the directors for this. Aside from that this is a well-directed effort that shows these guys have what it takes to hang in the genre for now.
So is the series over? I believe it is. The first two films pretty much closed off the advancing storyline regarding the two sisters, and this one aims to take care of what happened previously to them. I can see how they would continue the series by giving us ANOTHER prequel taking place between this film and the previous two, but I cannot see how the filmmakers could make that interesting enough to give us another solid horror film.
Overall, Paranormal Activity 3 is another solid effort in this series that gives good horror and great tension thanks to positive direction and an interesting storyline who together managed to keep things fresh and interesting for those who have kept up with the series. Recommended.