Hollywood is known for milking original content for every ounce of sequel and remake potential. Blame it on the absence of fresh ideas or the inability to properly let go. Indeed, sequels seem to be a dreadful epidemic in film today. Coming up with a novel idea for a part two without exhausting the original premise is a challenge. Just ask Matrix fans. Horror is such a great playground of emotion to experiment with to see what really makes audiences tick. Filmmakers can explore dangers lurking in the darkness that viewers never thought existed.
Paranormal Activity succeeded in creeping people out effectively by using clever tricks with simple single-shot camera work. It offered something new in scare tactics, even for a low budget enterprise. Of course, all overnight sensations lead to sequels and Paranormal Activity 2 arrived with almost the same premise as its forerunner.
Now, with the third film appearing just before Halloween and no new Saw movie on the horizon (thank God), there’s one more round of amateur filmmaking which will determine if this idea of terror is still original or just another example of a horror series in desperate need of being put down.
Paranormal Activity 3 is a prequel that follows the young sisters Katie and Kristi, the two girls who appeared all grown up in parts 1 and 2. The story takes place in the 80’s, though it’s not obvious, at least not from a visual standpoint. Both Katie and Kristi live together with their free-spirited mother and her husband and the film once again becomes a haunted house picture, albeit with tedious progression.
Strange things begin to happen which is a standard affair for the series, where little “gotcha” moments barely spook the girls or audience members, for that matter. The girls’ father is a wedding videographer; his recording events on tape conveniently leads right up the paranormal alley. The film offers the best new hidden camera location: a video recorder is set up on an a fan that swings back and forward between two alternate rooms. This is a terrific way of matching frightening images with unrestrained focus and the amount of scares that are possible from this viewpoint are plentiful.
Sustaining horror is what the Paranormal Activity movies are all about and in that sense, part 3 doesn’t disappoint. But by now, most people have become too used to this approach. A slow beginning explodes into chaos towards the climax. All the while, there are only glimpses of what’s behind the things that go bump in the night. Without giving away important plot points, Paranormal Activity 3 ratchets up in a shock and awe finale that finally gives a face to the horror that causes these two girls so much grief. However, getting to that point is a dull experience full of pop-out shots that don’t use the single camera logic to full effect.
Still, there are bits of humour sprinkled throughout the film and the overall feel of it is more definitive than the previous outings. Co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (the two behind the similarly themed Catfish) are responsible for adding a little bit of spice to this retread of a formula that was beginning to grow old. They successfully keep the audience unnerved with images flashing on and off screen, in addition to the great shots that can be seen only in the corner of the camera.
Fans of the series will be right at home with Paranormal Activity 3 and at the same time be completely satisfied with what’s shown this time around. But no matter how hard it tries, the uncomfortable feeling that the first film provided is gone. As with all horror sequels, this one plays it safe and retains what made the original such a hit, yet it offers enough new features to warrant a viewing for jolts and chills at Halloween.