Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
There seems to be a big problem with horror films nowadays in that, when studios find an idea that ends up making a little money, they inevitably want to churn out more and more of the exact same product, whether the product is good or bad. Because of this, we have now had three “Paranormal Activity” films, each just as dull, if not more so, than the last. The idea is an interesting one, but not once has it been executed in an interesting manner, and this time is no exception.
This time around, a batch of tapes from Katie and Kristi’s childhood are found (of course, these weren’t found until now). These videos document their father, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith), trying to find evidence of something strange going on in their house after he sees something mysterious in a tape of him with his wife, Julie (Lauren Bittner). This causes him to set up cameras in their bedroom as well as their daughters’ bedroom, letting them run all day and night, checking the footage periodically.
In this footage, he starts to notice small things, like one of his daughters talking with an invisible friend, whom she calls Toby. However, stranger things begin to happen that show there may be cause for concern. Dennis tries to express these concerns to Julie, but she doesn’t want to hear anything more about it as “Toby” has really began to scare their kids. She even refuses to watch some very strong evidence that there is indeed something happening in their house, evidence that shows that they aren’t alone.
In the exact same fashion as the first two films, the paranormal activity starts out very low key. Strange noises are heard and unknown shapes are seen moving around in the halls. Eventually these events get larger in scale. Things begin to move, people are dragged around, ghosts in sheets appear (clichéd indeed, but done here in a somewhat well-executed effect), and in the film’s most impressive effect, all the items of a kitchen vanish only to drop in moments later. Oddly enough however, there seemed to be even less going on in this entry than in the previous ones, which, for a film that depends on these kinds of scares, is a rather strange direction to go.
As usual, the main problem with this latest entry is that it is so incredibly slow-burning that the filmmakers seem to forget that they have an audience to entertain. If the intent was to build suspense until it hits some kind of high point, then for the third time in a row this series has failed. However, if the sole intension was to lull an entire audience to sleep, this series has succeeded on all three occasions.
The strange thing about this series is that the different filmmakers have not even attempted to change anything major about it throughout three films. The first is exactly like the second which are both exactly like the third. The only difference is the time that they occur, this one occurring in the late 80s when the victims of the first two films were children. That being said, you can truly say that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
This is a series that is becoming just as parasitic as the “Saw” franchise. That’s not saying it’s nearly as bad as those films, but it’s similar in that they are dirt-cheap to make, so if merely a few people go to see one of them, the studio will then have enough money to go ahead with yet another, again, regardless of quality, which, despite being very poor for the first two films of the “Paranormal Activity” series, hasn’t stopped two more from being made.
There really just aren’t any scares to be had here. Even people who normally find themselves scared at the smallest “boo” will find themselves drifting off less than halfway through the film. It runs only about 80 minutes, but you’ll be wanting it to end long before that. Supposedly it was supposed to be longer than this, given that there were several scenes in the trailer that aren’t in the final cut of the film. I suppose even these guys (directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman) realized that their pacing was suffering, leading them to cut some material. Thank goodness for small favors. 1.5/4 stars.