Paranormal Activity wasn’t a surprise hit because it was a great film or reinvented horror films as we knew them. Far from it; in the handful of years since it was originally released it hasn’t aged all that well. The sequel did the same thing, too, but both films were immensely profitable because of one thing: clever marketing. Marketed more based off of how scared audiences were getting in them, and not on any actual story itself, the series has become a bit of phenomenon because it offers one thing: plenty of good old fashioned scares.
A prequel to both films that preceded it, this time instead of the present we venture into the ‘80s and VHS tapes as Katie (Chloe Csengery as a child, Katie Featherston in a cameo role as an adult after playing the part in the first two films) and Kristie (Spraque Grayden in a cameo role as an adult after starring in the second, Jessica Tyler Brown as a child) first encounter the spirit that stalked them in the first two films. With their mother (Lauren Bittner) and her boyfriend (Christopher Nicholas Smith) videotaping the strange occurrences around the house, the paranormal activity they experience becomes more and more evident until it reaches a shocking conclusion.
And, like the first two films, this film follows the same slow build over the first two acts and then explodes into a third act of paranormal shenanigans. The film really shines during the first two acts, which comprise the bulk of the first hour of the 90 minute film. This is a film that really adheres to the three act formula of story-telling; Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman really seem to be in their element here as they build up to the finale.
After doing similar with Catfish in a similar documentary setting, albeit portraying that film as non-fiction whereas Paranormal Activity 3 is properly labeled a fiction film, the duo really work wonders behind the camera. Using different camera setups in a similar setup to the second film, this is remarkably well setup for the first two acts. It’s actually better than the first two in that regard; the film delivers just enough jump scares to keep you engaged and mixes it up enough to keep it off-beat on occasion. There are a handful of jump scares that turn into lighter moments in the film; it’s a testament to the two that they’d mix it up enough to keep a viewer from being able to predict when the bad moments will happen.
The problem comes during the film’s final act; it’s such a radical departure from the first two that any momentum that gets gained from them ends up becoming more of a farce than anything else. This is a film trying to explain the events of the first two by giving them some context through their childhoods, which are alluded to in the first two films, but in doing so the series goes completely off the rails with it. It’s as if the first two acts are leading to a much different conclusion and the film’s final act was tacked on to satisfy an audience by the studio instead of Joost and Schulman. It feels so completely out of place that the film’s final moments become more bizarre than explanatory.
If the franchise that came out of nowhere is to end with this film, Paranormal Activity 3 seems a proper way to send it off. The two sequels to Paranormal Activity seem to prove that sometimes you can’t take a one-shot horror film with no opening for a second film and shoehorn a franchise out of it.
Directors: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman Notable Cast: Lauren Bittner, Christopher Nicholas Smith, Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown, Dustin Ingram, Katie Featherstone, Sprague Grayden Writer(s): Christopher B. Langdon
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.