The following Paranormal Activity 3 review is spoiler free. No scares or details about the ending are discussed. The plot is described in the second paragraph but do not give any specific details that ruin the ending.
The direction of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise has taken an interesting path since the first made its premiere. The first one was terrifying to me as a standalone self contained incident of a haunting in a couple’s house. When the second was announced I was excited but was worried that expanding the universe of the original story would make it less scary. The second had intermittent scares but less of a payoff for many scenes yet I still enjoyed it quite a bit. So for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 my brief thoughts are that it executes better than the second film, but the novelty of the premise is getting dated so while I still really like it, I wouldn’t be heartbroken if they decided to abandon a fourth entry next Halloween.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 begins as we see a pregnant Kristi (the mom from PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2, pregnant with Hunter) and soon her sister Katie (the girl from the couple in the first PARANORMAL ACTIVITY) dropping off a box full of VHS tapes labeled with their names and the year. We then see the scene from PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 were Kristi’s house has been trashed but her husband very perceptively notices nothing was taken but the box of VHS tapes. Cut to 1988 and we are now watching footage of Katie and Kristi as kids with their mother Julie and stepfather Dennis. Dennis tapes weddings for a living and doesn’t hesitate to start chronicling some weird occurrences that start when the youngest daughter, Kristi, begins talking to an imaginary friend named Toby. Things seem to be somewhat harmless at first until the nightly and daily incidents start to get more sinister and other troubling facts come into light.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 digs even deeper to the twisted family tree and history of Katie and Kristi’s life. Blowing the dust off these archived video tapes is both a cool aspect of this sequel/prequel and nearly becomes its undoing as well. On one hand being a child of the 80’s I feel right at home in this atmosphere and it makes for some cool nostalgia aspects. It also lends to ongoing jokes like fuzzy pause screens, jarring jumps in the footage including people being cut off mid sentence and the massive video work station in Dennis’ garage. In most movies these technical quirks would be scoffed at and chastised here I find it to be a welcome addition to the series when the jump scares have died down a bit.
The cameras are just as much a character in the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films as the character’s themselves- here we have the stationary cameras in the parents room and the kids room, any handheld camera action plus in a cool move Dennis rigs a camera to an old oscillating fan so the camera pans from one side of a room to the kitchen on the other side which makes for a lot of tense scenes. The adult characters here are a huge step up from the second film as I really connected with this group and especially with the young versions of Katie and Kristi.
The thing with the third entry into this franchise is that by this point audiences have grown to expect the night #1, night #2 set ups and the moments scanning the screen for something to happen. That is all still present so there’s nothing new in that department. There’s also nothing new in regards to seeing people being pushed or drug by an unknown entity and yes that’s all still here. It’s when the filmmakers dip in and try to try to add a little something extra into the mythology that things venture into shaky territory. There are ideas on display especially during the ending that I enjoy, I just feel like they lingered on it too long to a point that I actually rolled my eyes when it cut to black.
There are some very effective scares- my favorite being the “Bloody Mary” sequence- just don’t expect what you saw in the teasers. There’s a sense of urgency to the brutality of the demon this time around because we are seeing it push around children- which as disturbing as it is to see also is someone silly at one point too. Directors Joost and Schulman do a great job at throwing scares at you when you least suspect them but also when you are expecting them which kept me from getting too comfortable in my seat. There’s a good deal of humor mixed throughout which makes the characters much more relatable and likeable so I could connect more emotionally when things get amped up.
With many found footage films especially in this franchise the star isn’t so much the witty dialogue as is the way the filmmakers play with expectations. The fun is trying to be one step ahead of the directors and trying not to be caught off guard when the jump scares come out. The film is definitely scary enough- for me at least- my biggest issues are hidden in the continuity between all three films, the logic that the entire third film is based around and aspects of the ending. The ending here is not unlike the ending of the first two in specific ways but vastly different in the events of what happens.
Anyone taking the plunge to go out and see this knows what they are getting by now and in my opinion will get pretty much what they were expecting. If you’re a fan of the first two I see no reason why you can’t enjoy this one unless the mythology woven into this one really tests your patience. I watched the film without the context of any trailers released and I feel my level of enjoyment was elevated as a result. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 is more of the same- which is to say more of what goes bump in the night with a mixture of the subtlety of the first film as well as more in your face jump scares. I believe the film is a major step up from the second film but because the mystery is being dwindled down it remains inferior to the first film.
Want to read some spoilers? Go HERE for all the gory details!