By Admin | October 25, 2011

Since the creators of The Blair Witch Project struck it rich in 1999, attempting to repeat their success by replicating their found-footage formula has become an increasingly normal activity among filmmakers. This week’s case in point is a threequel jobbed out to co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the big screen pranksters behind the fake documentary Catfish.

I’m not sure which I find more difficult to comprehend: the fact that numerous reputable reviewers and media outlets insist to this day that Catfish was on the up and up or the credit Joost and Schulman have widely received for revitalizing a franchise which had clearly begun to slump. Don’t be fooled by its record-breaking box office; the fact is the third in the series isn’t more unsettling, more cleverly crafted or more entertaining any way you cut it. Paranormal Activity 3 is simply more of the same.

By some means screenwriter Christopher B. Landon (son of the late actor Michael) doesn’t even pretend to explain, the viewer is witness to the playing-don’t bother asking by whom-of a series of VHS home videos shot in 1988. They are shown in the order in which they were filmed and follow a young Carlsbad, California household consisting of a wedding photographer named Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) his girlfriend, Julie (Lauren Bittner), her two preteen daughters Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) along with an invisible malevolent entity Kristi addresses as Toby.

If some of the names ring a bell, that’s because we met the grown up version of these girls in the previous films. Katie Featherston starred as Katie, one half of the couple with unwanted company, in PA1. Sprague Grayden played Kristi in the follow up which had Toby dropping in on the adult sister and her family. Revealing that the relationship between the evil presence and the two women goes way back would seem intended to shed new light on the purpose of all the paranormal pop-ins but no such luck. Even after the theater lights come up, the audience remains in the dark.

So, back to late 80’s Carlsbad: As is customary in the series, the first half of the movie establishes characters, teases with things going bump in the night and fails to explain why an evidently haunted house’s residents consider setting up video cameras an alternative preferable to hauling a*s. As is his way in the second half, Toby becomes increasingly less playful.

There are indeed jolts here for the patient but none that are particularly inventive or can be said to break new ground. The introduction near the end of a witch’s coven, of all things, feels ill-advised and semi-desparate. As did its predecessors, Paranormal Activity 3 ultimately raises more questions than it answers.

Who’s treating us to this homemade film festival? Who edited the miles of video? When they’re fast-forwarded to indicate the passage of time, who’s at the controls? For that matter, who’s loading the tapes into the VHS player in the first place?

I have a question I haven’t seen raised anywhere else. Think about this story’s essential elements: You’ve got a suburban family whose home has been invaded by a supernatural force. That force expends much of its supernatural energy rearranging furniture-particularly in the kitchen-and young kids are placed in harm’s way. Sound familiar? That’s because what we’ve got here is basically Poltergeist minus the weird old short woman. The only significant difference is one relies on the found-footage gimmick and one doesn’t. My question is what’s gained?

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  1. Doug Brunell says:

    I’m not sure I want it to end because I don’t think the idea has been fully explored. It was good to see the first one because it did feel a little different. Sequels dilute that feeling. I still think there is life left in a film of this type, however.

  2. Hopefully this lame trend ends soon and there is more room in the market place for thoughtful horror/thrillers.

  3. Noah Lee says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Saw this at Fantastic Fest and was duly underwhelmed as I was with the others. I think people are just fond of the entirely lame jump scares these are built on.

  4. Doug Brunell says:

    I liked the first one, but haven’t seen either of the sequels. To me it always seemed like a film best left at one. People I know who have seen the sequels, however, really seem to like them. I remain unsure as to why. When asked, they simply respond that they are scary. That is what audiences are reduced to. One single reaction to a movie. Any movie that raises more than one reaction seems doomed to fail financially.

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