There are two types of horror fans in this world; the ones that dig the Paranormal Activity movies and the ones that don't. I've got friends that love 'em and friends that passionately hate them (i'm looking at you, Kristy!), which just goes to show how polarizing these movies are. As for me, i'm a big time fan of the first two films, as I find they brilliantly tap into a simple fear that I can personally relate to; the fear of what the hell is going on in your own home while you're asleep. Guess what? Even if strange shit is going on in your house, you've simply gotta sleep every night, and there's something so frightening about the fact that you have no control whatsoever of what's happening while you're out cold in your bed. That's some scary shit and since these movies so effectively tap into that simple idea, I find them to be some of the scariest movies that have come out in recent years. They just work for me. As the box office numbers year after year are proof of, i'm obviously not alone.
On top of that, I love the fact that the PA movies separate themselves from most of the other found footage horror flicks by focusing on story and characters first and foremost. While most found footage horror movies are pretty damn dull and boring whenever freaky shit isn't happening, these movies manage to be thoroughly engrossing and entertaining whether anything is happening or not (and are always quite humorous in the first halfs), which is largely due to the fact that we are made to actually care about the characters in peril. Which ties in with the second thing that makes me love and respect this franchise so much; the fact that each new installment is a continuation of the same original story. Rather than going the simple route of throwing a bunch of random new characters into similar situations as Katie & Micah found themselves in, we are continually treated to new material that expands that original story and adds more and more depth to it and to the characters (and when new people are brought in, they're all tied to that original narrative). I find that so interesting, especially how everything is presented to us backwards rather than forwards, and it's that core story more so than the scares or anything else that keeps me anxiously coming back to the theater every year. It's a hell of a fascinating story and I absolutely love to be fed more of it.
Which bring us to this third installment, which is a full on prequel to both PA 1 & 2, telling the story of how Katie and her sister Kristi became connected to the evil entity we've come to fear over the past couple years. Much like how the second installment went back in time to show us what happened before the first one (...and then also what happened after), so too does this latest installment, only this time we head all the way back to 1988, when Katie and Kristi were children. Yep, it's PA in the 80's and the pissed off demon is targeting a couple little girls. Do you like? Cause I like. Everything positive I just said above about the first two films also applies to this prequel to a prequel, i'm happy to report.
There's just something about these movies that keeps me so engrossed in them, absolutely glued to every little nook and cranny of the screen and anxious to see what's gonna come next, and PA 3 is no exception to that. In fact, as much as I dug the second, i've gotta say that i'm even more of a fan of this one. In my review of the second one I talked a bit about how that one was more of the same type stuff as the first, which is exactly what I expected and hoped it would be. Such is the case with this prequel. Oren Peli and company have figured out what works, they've figured out how to scare their audience, they've figured out what their audience likes to see and they stick with that basic premise of gnarly shit being caught on camera while characters are asleep, or in some cases even while they're awake and the sun is shining bright in the background (never...safe). That's the kinda stuff we go to these movies to see and there's really no need to stray much from that formula. But again, the great thing about this series is the focus on story, expanding it and bringing new information to the table, and much like PA2, PA3 presents us with a solid story, which keeps things new and exciting despite the fact that the majority of the paranormal stuff is quite familiar to what we've already seen. The backstory we're presented with fits in really well with what we've been shown in the past and i'm continually impressed with how the story continues to evolve and never gets stale or desperate. That's not easy and it's something that must be commended. It's also quite impressive how those scares are still as freaky and effective as ever, even though we pretty much know what to expect at this point. Again, not easy to pull off.
Now there are a couple standout new elements that separate this one from the others and make it a unique and fresh experience, which is what I want to get into a little bit here.
For one, the fact that it takes place in the 80's adds a whole new level of awesomeness to the proceedings. As you've probably gathered by now i'm a big fan of all things 80's and this movie is chock full of little time specific treats, including old toys, old boxes of cereal, Back To The Future discussions and VHS tapes. That 80's vibe really adds something exciting to the movie, at least for me, and I gotta say they did a real good job of making it feel like we were watching footage that was shot back then, right down to the wardrobe choices on the characters. I found this to be awesome and it's probably got a lot to do with why I liked this one even more than the 2nd. The fact that it's set in the 80's also allows for a very organic explanation for why the (step)father is filming everything, much like how Micah ends up doing so many years later. This may seem like a minor little thing but it's always important for found footage horror movies to have a believable explanation as to why what's being shown was being filmed by a character in the first place and though it seemed like a hell of a tough task to convince us that these characters were also being filmed earlier in their lives, it all makes sense. Not only was Katie & Kristi's stepdad a wedding videographer, but didn't pretty much every dad back in the 80's snag themselves a new VHS camcorder and film their kids growing up? I know mine did. It's only natural that the dad continues filming once he realizes there's something strange going on in the house. After, of course, he tries to get his wife to make an awkward little sex tape with him.
Another big change here is the addition of a brilliant new way of filming the activity, through the use of a camera device the father rigs up using his wife's old fan. He sets up the camera on top of the fan's oscillating head, which allows him to film what's going on in the entire kitchen/dining room area, rather than just one small section of it. These movies have always been limited to what the stationary cameras can show and though a bunch of security cameras were added to the mix the second go around, this oscillo-cam provides for the most coverage yet and ends up adding a whole lot of tension to the proceedings, as the camera slowly moves from side to side, sometimes showing us evil shit that is going on and other times drifting us away from the action, forcing us to wait until we're focused back on what's happening. It's a brilliant little addition and a totally inventive new element within the found footage sub-genre which really added a whole new dimension to the film.
If there's anything negative I have to say about the movie, it's that the ending gets a tad bit too hokey for my liking, and a little pet peeve of mine from the first one once again presents itself. On top of that, everything isn't as neatly wrapped up as I would've liked it to be, leaving me with more questions about some stuff than it did answers. But I think at this point everyone involved is aware that these nuggets of moneymaking gold are going to continue for years to come, so they've gotta leave some doors open and I totally get that. Besides, I guess it's a high class complaint to say that a franchise installment leaves you fiending for more, am I right?
I most certainly am dying to learn more about the paranormal adventures of Katie & Kristi and I honestly cannot wait till next year to find out more. Paranormal Activity 3 not only did its job, and did its job quite well, but it once again proved that this franchise is one of the best things the genre has got going for it these days. I love it and I loved this third installment, just as much as the previous ones. If you're a fan of the first two, I expect you'll feel the same way.
By the way, interesting to note, pretty much nothing that we saw in any of the trailers for this one is actually seen in the movie. Not sure if this was intentional or if a lot was just recently cut out, but I found it kinda cool that the trailers spoiled absolutely nothing for us, which trailers so often do these days. It was also nice to see that in the actual movie you really don't see the demonic entity (thank god!), as the trailers were suggesting you would. But ya, it's best to go into these movies not knowing much about them or what's gonna happen in them, so i'm sorta feeling like the trailer was intentionally cut together to throw us off. We shall see once the DVD comes out, I suppose. All I know is, i'll be happy to add it to my collection!