I loved the first two Paranormal Activity films. The first was original and a wonderful change from the gorier horror movies that dominated the multiplexes for a while. Then, Paranormal Activity 2 was easily one of the best horror sequels out there, as the narrative retconning managed to beautifully tie in with the first film. So the question was, could this be one of the first horror series to receive a decent third instalment?
The answer: yes and no. Paranormal Activity is no Scream 3, but at the same time, it is frustratingly less satisfactory that the previous two. Whilst PA 2 answered questions raised by PA 1, this film does nothing more than create loose ends. If you were hoping that this would signal an end to the franchise, then you’ll be sorely disappointed.
Kind of the second prequel in the series, PA 3 sees us transported back to 1988, when Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristie (Jessica Tyler Brown) are young kids living with their mother, Julie (Lauren Bittner) and her boyfriend, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith). Kristi’s got an imaginary friend called Toby and there are all sorts of bumps in the night going on, so – this being a Paranormal Activity film – Dennis decides to set up cameras around the house in an attempt to catch what’s going on.
Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Shulman have a great time devising a whole new series of scares, some of which are variations on stuff we’ve seen before and some which are entirely new. The ingenuity on show is brilliant, and it manages to make subtle changes to the PA formula that work rather well. For me, it wasn’t as scary as the first two, but there’s still that great sense of unease permeating the whole film.
There are, however, a couple of big problems. The first is simple and pops up whenever you make a ‘found footage’ film – why on Earth would people be filming at any given moment? The first two movies found a way around this and, for the most part, succeeded in making it a non-issue. PA 3 doesn’t. There are many, many occasions when cameras are filming in the most unlikely of scenarios, or a character is running for their life but has decided that they must continue to look through the viewfinder. It’s a small issue, but one that jars somewhat.
The second problem is a biggie, and it’s already been talked about online ad nauseum. We’ve all seen trailers that include moments that are left on the cutting room floor, but I’d estimate that about 80 per cent of the PA 3 trailer isn’t included in the film. It’s an interesting quirk that has angered and mystified people worldwide, but it does reveal something of the nature of the filmmaking process that took place. Part of the problem with PA 3 is that it feels disjointed. The first and second films had a very steady pace and very clear build-ups. This is not the case with the third film, which has the extreme moments/scares occur more frequently. It seems clear that once the shoot wrapped, they got into the editing and simply chose the best bits of the huge amount of footage they’d amassed. This isn’t a deal breaker, but at worst means that the film acts like a clipshow rather than having an organic narrative.
Paranormal Activity 3 isn’t a bad film by a long shot, but it certainly doesn’t compare favourably with the first two. It seems pretty clear that the fourth instalment will hopefully clear up a number of the questions raised here, though I’m hoping it doesn’t get too convoluted à la the Saw franchise. Suffice to say, if you didn’t like the first two films, there’s no point watching this one, but if you’re like me and found them to be fun, tension-filled experiences, then this continues the series admirably but without truly excelling. It’s just a pity that it feels less like a stand-alone film than that which we’ve seen before.Rating: