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Review: Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)

Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)

Directed by: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

Premise: A prequel to the previous Paranormal Activity films. Taking place in 1988, the film is a pseudo-documentary about the haunting of a family.

What Works: Paranormal Activity 3 fixes many of the mistakes of the previous film. Part two was confusing as to how it related to the first film and had a stupid, anti-climactic ending. The third film returns to the simplicity of the original picture and it does have a few effective set pieces.

What Doesn’t: The problem with Paranormal Activity is that it was always a one-trick pony; once viewers have seen the first film, they have essentially seen everything this series has to offer. The entire Paranormal Activity series is based on the haunted house scares of creeping shadows, unexplained sounds, and spontaneous movements, usually shot while the family members are sleeping. Although Paranormal Activity 3 does do a few interesting set ups such as the oscillating camera panning from the threat to the victim and gradually bringing them closer together, there is nothing in this film fundamentally better or different from the content of the first film. And by repeating the joke that is Paranormal Activity almost gag for gag, the series suffers. What was innovative is now predictable and the commodification of the series into an annual event spoils what was intriguing about the original picture. Further, all pseudo documentaries have to justify the reason that the footage exists and the reasons for the footage of the Paranormal Activity films have always been very tenuous, although more so by the third installment. Earlier Paranormal Activity films let the scares play out in wide shots and craftily misdirected audience attention to set them up for unexpected frights. But the third film sets the camera in places for disingenuous reasons that suggest an obvious set up and then the film follows through with that set up. Paranormal Activity 3 faces a similar problem with its story; there is an attempt to open it up beyond the domestic haunting and hint at a broader conspiracy. But the mystery is clumsily handled and makes no sense but worst of all the film undermines its predecessors. Paranormal Activity 3 reveals that the lead women of the first twofilms had a history of hauntings and this creates all kinds of other problems that retroactively make the entire Paranormal Activity series seem silly.

Bottom Line: The Paranormal Activity films were a one-scare-wonder and this film is drawing from a well that has long since gone dry. Although it has a few shocks, Paranormal Activity 3 does not have any of the originality or craft of the original film and its attempts to broaden the series don’t work.   

Episode: #361 (October 30, 2011)