Just last week in my review for the remake of The Thing, I mentioned that when it comes to prequels, you either have a checklist of unexplained events to answer for or you can have some fun and build upon what’s already been laid out. The new Thing did this extremely well. When it comes to this weekend’s horror entry, Paranormal Activity 3, not so much. Paramount Pictures obviously wants film after film of groundwork laid, but this is becoming an alarmingly weak foundation.
I have to admit, when Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman were announced as directors of the series’ second prequel, I breathed a sigh of relief. Here are directors who know the genre all too well. Their extraordinary Catfish was a work of sheer genius. How much of their documentary was fake, who knows. And who cares? It was a great thrill ride featuring one of the best twist finales in years. It also featured a few horror elements sprinkled in a couple of scenes which is no doubt how Joost and Schulman scored this gig.
Unfortunately, they’re also straddled with the screenplay courtesy of Christopher B. Landon. From the mind who gave us both Disturbia (fun) and Blood and Chocolate (atrocious), he also was partially responsible for Paranormal Activity 2. Given that both “sequels” are prequels, I can only imagine that this format to the series is mostly his. And it’s a nice twist on the standard genre trend. Why not keep going backwards to root out “how the activity began,” as the film’s tagline reads? I’ll tell you why not, because none of it makes a lick of sense.
If you watched these three films chronologically, they’d function the same way most horror series do. If 3 came first it could be heralded as fantastic in comparison to 2 and 1, which would come off as being standardized sequels. This theory actually makes sense as the end of the original Paranormal Activity was the worst thing ever sprung from the mind of Steven Spielberg. People may pick on Hook or The Lost World, but we all know by now that the first Paranormal ending was his idea, and what a horrible idea if there ever was one. What worked marginally well for a good 85 minutes has the final minute completely obliterate any sense of fun.
The same is pretty true with 3 as well. We begin somewhere in the timeline of 2 with Rey sisters Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and Katie (Katie Featherstone) prepping for the birth of Kristi’s baby boy. Katie has also brought along some boxes she got stuck with after their grandma Lois passed away. And so begins the new installment. Now we are treated to the series’ most likeable couple, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) and Julie (Lauren Bitter), Kristi and Katie’s mother. Dennis is their stepfather and is looked down upon by Lois because he doesn’t offer any financial security by just being a wedding videographer. Of course, this means that he has access to multiple video cameras and keeps a steady supply of video tapes in the garage where his editing station is.
Now we learn that as a child, Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) has an imaginary friend named Toby. Katie (Chloe Csengery), is always playing the older sister role by making Kristi participate in family birthday parties and calling her a baby for having an imaginary friend. Soon enough, all sorts of spooky noises are heard through the house and all kinds of paranormal activities rear their head. At least this time Joost and Schulman play up some nods to Poltergeist, along with its sequel (for better and worse here), and a dash of The Blair Witch Project for good measure.
The performances in Paranormal Activity 3 work as the film’s superglue. But even superglue has the ability to wear away after so long. Like I said, eventually Paramount Pictures seems to have demanded that the film continues its headlong nosedive into the series’ own mythology, which just makes the proceedings more ludicrous as the minutes tick by. This is also by far the least boring of the three films, but some would wholeheartedly argue with that.
In the end, if you’re a fan of the series you will love this entry as Ariel and Schulman pull off some fun stunts, and they even get to rely on the age old drama of someone dropping something down the garbage disposal. So if you like these films go for it. There’s really not much playing right now in the way of horror, and it is October for crying out loud. The good old days are definitely behind us as we’ve already been treated to both Insidious and Scream 4 all the way back in April, while Final Destination 5 spectacularly killed off its latest round of pretty young actors last month before Fright Night vanished, and the only other horror film playing right now is The Thing. While the better of these two won’t make a lick of money compared to the other, at least Paranormal Activity 3 isn’t a total bust. I just wish that someone could figure out how to end one of these things… if not the whole enterprise.
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