Since Paranormal Activity was released in 2009, the low budget horror franchise has become a cult phenomenon, the series has grossed over $400 million at the box office. The newest incarnation takes us back in time, revealing just what was on the tapes stolen at the beginning of Paranormal Activity 2.
The 80’s setting generally works well, allowing for a raft of humorous haircuts and poor quality technology. The video cameras in question are clunky, out of focus models, with ingenuity required to cover the whole household (a fan motor is used to memorable effect). The main characters are a little more likeable than in the previous two films, the goofy Dennis and the immature Randy providing welcome comedy value while Lauren Bittner manages to provide a warmth and sympathy to the role of July that could have easily become irritating. Young girls in horror films are always creepy, with Kristi not disappointing her audience in her mysterious interactions with the malevolent ‘Toby’.
Fans of the previous films will already know what to expect. Tension is frequently built up to a maximum, often reaching fever pitch before either nothing happens, human intervention provides an unexpected scare, or Toby becomes involved with the action. A white sheet is used for genuinely creepy affect, perhaps the first time this has happened in a horror film, while the finale ramps up the fear before climaxing with a violent twist.
The problem with the film as a whole is that we’ve seen it all before. Familiar techniques are used far too often to be genuinely scary. The slamming door technique worked in the first film, just about in the second, but by the third you’re left wondering why people don’t just shut their doors more often if they want to be protected from evil spirits. Similarly, Toby needs to develop a new way of scaring people in the kitchen, smashing the appliances to the floor is a tired feature that is found too often in the series. The twist at the end just about works, but it will be spotted a mile off by those more switched on to the conventions of horror films in general.
In conclusion, Paranormal Activity 3 is an effectively frightening addition to the franchise, providing just about the required level of tension and shock value to give many cinema goers a sleepless night. The format is, however, beginning to lose the innovative approach that took the world by storm in 2009. There is an inevitably going to be a 4th iteration, therefore the creative team has a year to inject new life into a flagging concept.