In many ways found footage films are like reality television: they cost next to nothing to produce and when they catch on the profit margins can go through the roof. The Blair Witch Project, which came out in 1999, was really the first project to truly capitalize on this idea, but it’s the Paranormal Activity movies that have really mastered it. Now, for the third time in as many years, the franchise is back to put you in the Halloween spirit.
A prequel set back in 1988, when the protagonist sisters of the first two movies were still children, the movie explores the origins of their haunting. Structured in the exact same way as the previous ones, the story starts with things going bump in the night and the lead male character, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) in this case, setting up cameras around the house to watch the family while they sleep. As time passes the spirit tormenting the family becomes worse and worse leading to a horrifying conclusion.
Paranormal Activity 3 doesn’t introduce a lot of new elements, but it’s not really supposed to. Sure, setting the film in the 1980s allows for a relevant debate about the title of Back To The Future and a Bad News Bears poster on the wall, but it doesn’t really have an impact on the film as a whole. The technology is downgraded by 23 years, but the footage quality is the same as what was seen in the first two movies. The structure is exactly the same (watch creepy stuff happen at night, watch the footage in the morning, repeat) and if you have the patience for it, it will be just as fun a ride.
To the film’s credit, the stuff that is new does add to the experience. One original feature involves Dennis strapping a camera to an oscillating fan base so that he can view what’s going on in both the living room and the kitchen. You may see something strange going on in the living room, but have to anxiously wait for the camera to get back from the kitchen to “investigate” it further. There’s also the fact that two of the main characters are children, which makes the audience more inclined to care about their safety (it also helps that the two young actresses, Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown, are cute and not at all annoying like some child actors).
At this stage in the game either you’re on board with the Paranormal Activity franchise or you’re not. The third entry isn’t going to win any new fans – as it’s still the same concept, just executed with different characters – but those who love the first two movies will get a kick out of the latest installment. Considering the box office success of the earlier films, I don’t think anybody is going to complain about that.