The Paranormal Activity franchise is now entering its second sequel(prequel) and I’ve been left wondering if the franchise can really sustain itself relying on the same tricks its been using since the original. The series was certainly really cool and inventive when it was released by demand in 2009, but now the really cool following has erupted into a similar crowd that followed the Saw series. This sequel actually goes back to 1988 when the protagonists from the first two movies are children so that the audience can see where the whole story started(kind’ve). I think the big question on my mind as well as the minds of many others is how long can these movies keep audiences scared before the movies cheap tricks and formula grow stale? Paranormal Activity 3 certainly promises some new scares and a bit of an origin story, but can it really deliver on scares when it sticks pretty close the formula of the first two films?
The story of Paranormal Activity 3 is a fairly simple one which I believe is a good thing for the series overall. The story basically goes back to 1988 to when the protagonists from the first two films Kristi and Katie are little girls and the origin to the demon that terrorizes the girls when they are older gets some light shed on its motives. The mother of the girls, Julie, and her boyfriend Dennis move in together while the girls are celebrating Katie’s birthday. We learn that Dennis is starting a cinematography business in which he goes to weddings to film and edit videos for people (thus coming up with a reason for the cameras in the 80s). Eventually Dennis gets a little curious and decides to make a sex tape with Julie. While in the process there is an earthquake that stops the sex tape while the camera catches something odd on the tape. Dennis begins to investigate the mysterious shape that appeared on the tap and as he digs for information the “hauntings” begin to become more and more of a problem while Kristi begins to talk to a friend that nobody else can see named Toby. While the premise of this film is fairly different the way the film builds is almost exactly the same down to the formula. The scares start very small with a couple of cheap scares thrown in just to get you. As the film progresses the scares get more and more significant until the film hits the climax and then ends. The film relies on a mixture of old and new tricks. The movie hits a really fine balance between new in old with the slowly panning camera being the standout idea of the film.
The story is really simple and not very difficult to follow which is great for people who haven’t seen the other films while there is enough of the slowly building mythology to keep fans of the first two films interested. As a whole the film does a decent job at fleshing out the how and the why of the first two films. To be honest I would caution people to be too critical of the story in this franchise because there really are several pretty sizable plot holes that are somewhat noticeable once you begin to look below the surface of what these films are telling you in the story they’ve shown us thus far. On the surface the story(ies) work well enough, but when you really begin to break these films down there are several inconsistencies. That being said I believe that the stories work well enough to give us an entertaining story that can carry the scares that audiences want to see. I don’t come to see these movie for the stories; I come to experience the films. The thing that really drives these things more than anything is the audience response to the films. I saw this movie on opening night in a sold out theater. Sure the crowd could be obnoxious at times, but the energy level in the room was incredibly high and every time something happened the audience would respond to it and this audience would actually feed the experience of the film. As movies I really think Paranormal Activity 3(or the series as a whole really) aren’t great, but as a film going experience I think the movie is worth every penny and every second of run time(which is much shorter in this film with the running time at 84 minutes).
I’ll be honest; acting and directing in this movie are fine, but they really aren’t a huge deal with me in these films. These films really don’t need great acting or great directing; they just need some serviceable people and some clever ideas to get the job done. To this end I believe Paranormal Activity 3 delivers. Hopefully you are seeing my point which is that these films don’t need to be exceptional in the technical areas as long as its creative enough to hold the interest of the audience which this film does.
Overall I think that Paranormal Activity 3 continues the tradition of being a great experience to a fairly unexceptional movie. The film is able to hit a pretty solid stride when it comes to mixing the same low budget tricks to get scares as well as inventing some new low budget scares. I have enjoyed the series up to this point and while the mythology of these films may not hold up under much scrutiny the stories are still serviceable to the films. The biggest question that I have regarding these films is how long can this series keep using the same techniques to get scares. The formula and type of horror these films have provided has been great up to this point, but I believe that if they are to continue this series that they will really need to mix things up because these tricks seem like they are about to run their course if they haven’t already. If I was to rate the film of Paranormal Activity as a 6, but rate the experience of the film as a 9 then I believe the proper score for this film would fall somewhere in between.
The story of the film is simple and it works for the most part. The story for this film as a standalone film holds up well enough(other than the prologue to the film) but for the overall mythology of the series I’d say that this film creates just as many plot holes as it fills in.
As I stated above; I really am not looking for great acting for this film so I actually find this category irrelevant in the rating of the film. All I need to say is this; the acting in this film is serviceable enough that it allows the story to be told through the actors without being distracting, but the film offers nothing exceptional with all no name actors.
*See thoughts on Character/Acting
Overall Effectiveness of the Film: 9 (on first viewing)
I believe that this series of films works well as an experience. Whether that experience be in a theater full of people or on you couch alone in the dark; I believe this film is very effective on the first viewing. While I can’t say for sure about this film as I have not watched it multiple times; I can draw a conclusion about this film during repeat viewings due to my thought on the secondary viewings of the other films. The second time you see any of these films that magic that was there the first time is gone and you’re left with a solid, but nothing special low budget horror movie. The first experience is certainly enjoyable enough to warrant the score of a 9.
Overall Score: 7.0