The first Paranormal Activity was the little horror movie that could. Made for a measly $15,000 (which is absolutely nothing in movie money terms) it went on to make a whopping $193 million at the box office, certainly this decade’s Blair Witch Project. Inevitably a sequel was made, the inferior Paranormal Activity 2, which grossed $177 million, only $16 million shy of what the first one made (on a higher budget of $3 million).
Needless to say another sequel was inevitable. So is the third one any good or just more of the same? Well both actually.
The idea is pretty much the same as the last two: someone sets up some cameras in their house to film the strange goings-on. However, things get a little bit more interesting this time around as it delves into why the events of the first two films occurred, into the past of the two main sister characters, Katie (Katie Featherston) and Kristi (Sprague Grayden), via watching some old videotapes that were passed down when their grandmother died.
Although logic problems found in the first two instalments are still present here (such as how the videotape is edited so well together), you can forgive that in lieu of the scares it sets up. And thankfully the third film improves a lot on what the second one was lacking: namely keeping the pace a lot quicker, spending less time in the in-between moments, and just getting on with the scares. Also the story and the people involved (two of which are the younger versions of the main sisters) are just a lot more interesting than the family we saw in the second film.
On paper the premise of going back into the past might seem redundant – after all we know what becomes of the two girls – but directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (who made the is-it-real-is-it-not documentary Catfish) and writer Christopher B. Landon (who also wrote the second one) pull off the premise quite well. You might be thinking about it afterwards and realize it doesn’t hold together as much as you previously thought, but in the moment, for the most part anyway, it works.
The third film also does a solid job of both feeling like part of the same franchise but still finding inventive new ways to scare its audience. This isn’t just a rehash of the scares we’ve had before but makes more of the potential the simple premise offers. It doesn’t quite feel as original as it did the first time around as by now audiences have gotten used to the formula, but it’s unusual for a horror series to get to its third round and not feel completely tired.
While this one has a much simpler, back-to-basics approach than the second one (which frankly failed at what it was trying to do) the film does mess up in the last act. Not to give anything away, but with a reveal towards the end it takes the franchise in an altogether less interesting direction than it first seemed to be going. It may be a surprise but only so far as it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense with what we’ve seen throughout the whole of the franchise so far. It feels jammed in there as a convenient way to try to explain it all but ironically confusing things more in the process. The less known about what was really going on the better, as it turns out.
Having said that, when it concentrates on scaring its audience, Paranormal Activity 3 is a fun watch, particularly with a crowd of people who are waiting on edge for the next thing that’s going to interrupt the errie silences. This idea has gone from a little extremely low-budget horror that snuck up on people to a full-blown franchise. And while I don’t think any of the films, even the first, has anything substantial to offer, it does provide for some solid spooky fun. Because it’s no longer an original idea, the first one still is the best but for what it is the third one does what it aims to do rather well.