NOTE: John "The Arrow" Fallon's review will be up over the weekend.
PLOT: A prequel set in 1988, showing the initial haunting of sisters Katie (Chloe Csenery- later Katie Featherstone), and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown- later Sprague Grayden) by a supernatural presence that would return years later to provoke the events of the first two films.
REVIEW: When I reviewed PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 last year, I was surprised at how much my negative review upset a lot of readers, who felt I wasn't giving the series it's due. Love 'em or hate 'em, I can't deny that the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films have struck a chord with audiences, and I can totally understand why a lot of JoBlo.com readers would enjoy them. For one thing, they're different from the typical chiller that comes out these days, as the don't resort to CGI, or gore to scare an audience. Rather they prey on a fear that we all share, which are of things that go bump in the night.
Admittedly, I'm not the biggest fan of the series. The first film was an interesting experiment, and director Oren Peli deserves a lot of credit for turning a micro-budget experiment into a major hit. However, the second film was a virtual remake of the first, adding nothing new to the franchise. When I heard they were making a third film, I wasn't the least bit enthused, until hearing that it would be directed by Henry Joost, and Ariel Schulman- whose film CATFISH, I adored (regardless of whether or not it's an actual documentary).
Their approach to PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 is indeed somewhat different from the last two. Aside from the rather obvious prequel aspect (it was only a matter of time really), the film certainly relies more on out-and-out scares this time around. While it took about 2/3's of the running times in previous films, Joost and Schulman get to the scares relatively early.
PA3 focuses on Katie and Kristi's stepfather, Dennis (Chris Smith), a wedding videographer, who's settling into a blissful new marriage with the girls' mother, Julie (Lauren Bittner). Like the other films, this is all “found footage”, and being set in the eighties, we get a low grade video, with some intentional rolls, and video artifacts (although, in a concession to the fact that this is a studio film, it's starts to look less and less like tape as it goes on, looking way too polished for VHS- oh well). Being a child of the eighties, I appreciated some of the tongue in cheeks flourishes, including the prominent use of a Teddy Ruxpin doll (yay!).
One area that PA3 improves on the last films is in the quality of the cast and characters, all of whom felt a little more authentic than in the other films (Joost and Schulman's documentary background serves them well in this regard). Smith and Bittner are both very likable as the initially disbelieving parents (although the mother's denial is eventually a little tough to swallow), and the youngsters, Brown and particularly Csenery, are fantastic.
However, in an effort to be scarier than the last films, Joost and Schulman may have gone a little too far, as the whole thing becomes so extreme towards the end that the fact that neither of the girls mentions their horrific childhoods in the last two films is a major plot hole. However, if you ignore that little issue, PA3 is indeed a lot more exciting than the last two films, although in moving towards more visceral horror, they might be pushing the films away from what makes them unique to many viewers (although the vocal audience I saw this with didn't seem to mind).
At any rate, while I enjoyed PA3 to a certain extent, I'm still not really a fan of this franchise. It's a series that just doesn't really appeal to me, as I simply don't find them scary. In fact, the whole premise of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise seems like it was lifted from THE ENTITY (a truly scary 1982 horror flick), but considering how obscure that film is, I guess I'm one of the few that noticed.
Suffice to say, if you liked the last two, you'll probably enjoy the third film, as it is without a doubt the best film of the franchise (in my opinion anyway). However, if like me you thought the other films were overrated, this isn't really going to change your mind about the series. Still, it could have been a lot worse, and at least Schulman and Joost seem to be trying.