Determining if something is scary is a very subjective issue. What scares you might not necessarily scare me. Some people are scared of psychopaths and some are scared of the supernatural but what we do have in common is that we all fear something. That makes it tough for Horror films to ever get some respect. Because most of the time you have one person shaking in shear terror and then you have a person laughing at what they perceive to be ridiculous. This goes for the Paranormal Activity films, which seems to split people right down the middle, some people mock it and others love it. I however love these movies because they scare me to death. To me, watching these films is like going on a rollercoaster, you go from laughter, to dread, and then to terror in no time. There is something fun in being scared and the first two Paranormal Activity movies did it quite well (in my opinion) but that is only half of the puzzle. The other half is the story, which is more interesting and the more fun part of these movies. I love the story of Kristi and Katie and I love learning bit by bit what is going on and why everything is happening to them. What made PA 1 and PA 2 so good is that they only rarely divulged hints as to what is really going on and the rest is filled in with our imagination. PA 1 and PA 2 got away with this because they were only the first two films in the series but we all knew that PA 3 wouldn’t be as lucky. We’ve seen two films and we are tired of guessing, it was time for some answers. PA 3 gives us just enough to end the series on a high note or move the franchise back into drive.
PA 3 isn’t the best of the series but it is a solid entry into the franchise. It continues with the same signature qualities of the first two but also keeps it fresh with some clever filmmaking and plot points. The film begins a little before the events of PA 2 and introduces us too a box of old dusty videotapes. These videotapes contain one in particular that catches the paranormal activities of Katie and Kristi as little girls. PA 3 begins with are basic introductions to the family and setting up the why and how all of these things are being videotaped 24/7. The cool thing about PA 3 is that it doesn’t start off with the same pace as the first two. You are thrown right into the action and even though there is a build up throughout the film, the pace is a lot faster than the other two and early scares are a lot more potent. The movie also turns on the creep factor, where as PA 2 was more about what may be happening, PA 3 is about what is happening. You see more here as sheets take form and dust particles settle on something you don’t want to be around.
I liked PA 2 but I felt like it was just good enough to keep the series going, so I put a lot of pressure on PA 3. PA 3 lived up to most of my expectations mostly because of the directing duo of Joost and Schulman (the directors of the doc Catfish) who bring fresh legs to the franchise. They don’t deviate from the blueprint of the series too much but they do inject it with some much-needed creativity. The “fan camera” that pans from the kitchen to the living room is a brilliant idea as the audience is left breathless as the camera pans back and forth. Then there is the handheld camera scenes which are so well planed out and put together. Hand held cameras are so hard to block out because they are so shaky and so limiting but in PA 3, the camera is put in the just right places to give a pretty good first person view of the action. The script here is also very well done (written by Christopher Landon) which gives a lot of twists and turns and also provides number 3 with some much needed character development. The characters seem to be more realized here than in any other movie in the series. I especially liked the character of Randy who is the sidekick to the step dad, Dennis, in his wedding video company. He is basically here for comic relief and he is funny enough to lighten the mood while not being over the top. I also liked the performance of Christopher Smith (who plays the mom’s step dad, Dennis) who plays that ignorant protagonist role so well. These found footage films have to have that headstrong character that keeps the camera rolling even when most of us would of abandoned it long ago and Smith plays the part with wit and charisma.
The negatives of PA 3 are a lot of the same negatives of most found footage films. We don’t know who is putting all of this film together or who is putting the tape into the vcr. PA 3 isn’t concerned with this and instead of trying to think of something clever, it disregards these questions. Also the film is too short. I understand that the suspense should make the film seem longer than it is but at 84 minutes, PA 3 seems to be over in a flash. The film also contradicts a lot of the events of the first two films. I won’t give away the end of the movie but when the events reveal what is going on, I think it leaves you with just as many questions as it does answers (albeit small questions). The movie also isn’t as scary as I anticipated it to be. Yes, I was scared and the jump scares did occasionally startle me, but it didn’t have the effect that the first one did. After watching the first one, I had problems sleeping for a month. Maybe PA 3 just doesn’t have that same effect because I’ve seen the story before or a lot of the mystery is revealed but that sense of dread after the movie is over isn’t as strong the third time around.
Even though I’m not in love with the direction PA 3 takes the series with the film’s end, I do believe something like this needed to happen to keep the series from growing stale. So many times Horror films just keep trying to recreate the original until they beat it to death. I felt like PA 2 almost fell victim to this so for the third I wanted them to at least mix things up and they did more than just that, they give us an ending that creates a new foundation for the series. So many horror series are afraid of progression and I’m impressed that PA 3 doesn’t just give us a crazy ending while establishing the status quo for future sequels. PA 3’s ending will either be too definite for the series to move forward or change the franchise’s make-up and core. Either way it was a bold move to give away so much and in doing so, the filmmakers have changed everything. This is one of the rare times where a horror franchise has taken a risk instead of churning out the original until the money river runs dry.
PA 3 isn’t perfect nor is it just what you’d expect. It balances out scares, laughs, and story better than most horror films and still gives us that patented Paranormal Activity mood and action. Will there be a Paranormal Activity 4, I hope so. These movies have built a mythology of sorts that still has a lot of questions to be answered. It’s been a good Halloween season so far; I’ve figured out my costume early, the Saw series is finally dead, and the Paranormal Activity films are still rolling along.