When the small, independent film Paranormal Activity hit theatres in 2007, no one could have expected the impact on both the box office and the landscape of the genre still four years later. The original film about a couple that uses their personal video camera to capture the actions of a demonic presence In their home had an estimated budget of $15,000 and went on to gross almost $200 million before it finished it’s theatrical run.
The success of the film all but sealed a deal to bring Paranormal Activity 2 to screens in 2010, and in the sequel, we got a more polished story about supernatural occurrences in a family’s home that has ties to the couple in the original film. The sequel was a little less successful than the original, but with a $177 million dollar haul on a $3 million dollar investment, it was assured that Paramount Pictures would be green-lighting a third film to complete the trilogy box set. That third film, aptly titled Paranormal Activity 3, hits theatres Friday looking to scare up big numbers that were once the staple of a film in the Saw series usually released at this time of year.
In PA3, we head back to the year 1988 where the two young sisters Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) attempt to summon and befriend an unidentified entity which moves invisibly in their home. Katie and Kristi were played by Katie Featherston and Sprague Grayden in PA and PA2 (don’t worry, they both have scenes in the third film) but Paranormal Activity 3 is an origin story which gives us the background as to why the two sisters were plagued by the evil force that will haunt them later in life.
Being that it is supposed to have been captured on VHS in 1988, the quality of the film is purposefully worse than the first two films (is that possible?), but the result is the easily the scariest film of the franchise. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman seem to know the rules of the sequel which include giving the audience more scares than the predecessors and they lay it on with a potency that will ensure the goosebumps meet their roll call. The packed house screening audience seemed to relish in the moments of well-plotted jolts with screams being quickly followed by snickers as the audience members came to grips with the reaction intended manipulation.
The story for Paranormal Activity 3 is more of a yawner than parts 1 or 2. As this is a prequel of a prequel, I think invested audiences that are versed in the plight of Katie and Kristi will feel like the wet rag of the idea has been squeezed into the genre bucket to a point where the cloth is barely damp with any new revolutionary inspirations. Yet, we didn’t mind. The scares are so more pronounced in PA3, that we can forgive the beating of the dead horse attempt at a story for the moments of involuntary jump scares.
If this concludes the series (which is unlikely if the film continues the box office success of the franchise) then Paranormal Activity 3 is a worthy entry and is worth the price of admission to share in the experience with a darkened theatre full of strangers. But when the DVD box set becomes available, be sure to watch the films in the order to which they were released. Paranormal Activity 3 is the strongest and scariest while the first Paranormal Activity was definitely the creepiest. Watching it in reverse (yet chronological) order would leave a viewer with sense that the series got weaker as it went on – when in fact, it is as strong as ever.