'Paranormal Activity 3' Review - Huge On Scares, Light On Mythology

NOTE: This review was originally published on September 29th 2011 from a secret screening that took place at Fantastic Fest, and is being republished for the wide release.

The second half of Paranormal Activity 3 is the most consistently intense and frightening segment so far in the popular found footage series. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (the guys behind Catfish) take their sweet time getting to it but once the scares begin, they don't let up. That's the good news. The bad news is for a third film in a series, it adds almost nothing to the overall Paranormal Activity mythology. (Not to mention well over half the footage in the new trailer is NOT in the movie.) Fans might also be disappointed that Katie Featherstone, the star of the first two films, only makes a brief cameo to give a bit of context to the rest of the film which is primarily about her character and her sister as little girls. And they did not have a pleasant childhood.

The world premiere of Paranormal Activity 3 was the second Secret Screening at Fantastic Fest 2011 and you can read more about it after the jump.

If you're a fan of the Paranormal Activity series, you know Katie and her sister Kristi regularly referenced some bad things that happened when they were kids. Paranormal Activity 3 is those bad things, but actually seeing them doesn't really provide any interesting insight into the first two films, especially the cliffhanger endings. There are some hints at the origin of the whole thing, but they're not fleshed out. Instead the film simply gives us the information that not only do Katie and Kristi attract demons, but each has an almost superhuman ability to shut out events from their formative years. That's the only explanation for their lack of sheer terror when the activity began again later in life.

Lack of mythology aside, Paranormal Activity 3 does present a cohesive and frightening set of found footage. The year is 1988 and Katie and Kristi's mother is now involved with a videographer (how convenient) named Dennis. There's no mention of where the real father is. Once step-dad Dennis starts to hear strange noises in the house, he sets up VHS cameras everywhere that only tape 6 hours at a time. Pretty soon, he's got a three camera shoot going and a minimum of 18 hours of footage to go through everyday to find the scares. Yeah, to say the series is now scraping the bottom of the barrel to find reasons for all of this footage to exist is an understatement.

Once you get past that though, and past the first 25-30 minutes of plot set up which contain minimal scares, Paranormal Activity 3 is legitimately terrifying. Where the first two films slowly and steadily increased their scares from least to most (let's call it 1-10), this film hovers at around a 3 and then jumps up to about 9 for the rest of the movie. There are huge jump scares as well as nail-biting intensity. And while many were critical of the choice of Joost and Schulman to direct the film, they do a more than admirable job, not only getting great performances out of the kids, but pulling off some new and surprising scares.

If you like being scared and you like Paranormal Activity, you'll like this third installment. It's not as logical as the first one or as cleverly structured as the second. Plus it doesn't advance the core story enough to feel particularly significant. It will, however, make you jump out of your seat and grab the person next to you for an extended period of time. That's good enough.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10