Is 3 times the charm for the Paranormal Activity franchise?
However, once the aforementioned shift in setting takes place, a plot point that sets up the final 15 minutes or so, things take on a dramatic change that some might find for the better or for the worse. The film introduces a plot point that had been hinted at but never really elaborated on until now. Did it need to be elaborated on? That's the question that's been buzzing around my brain since I saw the movie.
Whatever the case, the third film in this found-footage horror franchise hits the right notes, more of the same notes, and some wrong notes. For the most part, it hits more of the same notes, but improves upon them in some ways. The film travels back to 1988 when the sisters from the last two films, Katie and Kristie, this time played as their young selves by Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown respectively, are just children. In this sense, it's a prequel to a prequel, as the second film took place before the events of the first film, and this film takes place before either of them. Unlike part 2 though, this film won't catch you up to speed with the aftermath of the film before it. Perhaps this is why I'm so frustrated with the ending. It gives zero closure, and the film ultimately feels like filler between part 2 and and an inevitable part 4.
And yet, in a way, it makes perfect sense. The franchise could end here and let us be the judge of what will happen with Katie and the baby boy she stole. But there's also a certain principle and annoyance involved with the fact that it's been three movies and the story set up in the first film still hasn't been resolved. From a viewer's standpoint, it can make a person impatient. From a storytelling standpoint, it's a good strategy, and I can respect that. Working their way backwards through the timeline has been a unique way of giving us the full backstory, but there comes a point where backstory has to stop and the actual story needs to continue. If there's another entry into the series, which I'm willing to bet there will be, the writers and director will have to come back to the end of the second film or risk losing their audience. The backstory to the sisters has been told (for better or for worse), so it's time to move on now.
Now back to the question of whether a certain plot point elaborated on at the end of the film was needed or not. I found that it was a complete curve ball and took me completely out of the story. People say the last 15 minutes are the scariest of the franchise yet, but I don't see how a bunch of old ladies is scary. In terms of suspense, yeah, it's probably the most suspenseful. We don't really know what's going on and it's the best use of confusion to scare the audience in the franchise thus far. We feel what the characters are probably feeling with the first person camera technique. It's hysteria. It still doesn't change the fact that the anticlmactic ending left me confused and wanting more.
In the long run, i.e. when the next film is released, I may come to appreciate this ending. I can't criticize it too much when there will undoubtedly be another movie that addresses some of these concerns. But when the camera cut to black and the end credits rolled, at that very moment, I felt cheated.
What the film does well, though, is adapt to the time era effectively. Probably the coolest use of the camera footage technique thus far in the series is the oscillating fan camera, which allows us to get a good view of the house at different angles at different periods, and it allows for some good spook tactics. At one moment a figure could be in the distance, and when the camera makes its way back to that placement, it could be gone. It really builds the tension in a way that the other films didn't. Since it takes place in 1988, there's only this fan camera, and two others that the film cuts between-the sisters' bedroom and their mother Julia (Lauren Bittner) and her boyfriend Dennis' room.
While the fan camera offers something new in terms of frights, there's a lot of the same. Sudden slamming of doors and shadowy figures all make their presense known, as does people getting carried across the floor by an unseen force. Speaking of which, while some say the final minutes are the scariest, I felt a certain scene involving the girls' bedroom was the most intense. And while there's other scenes that give off chills, there's also a large amount of scenes that are probably meant to spook, but only got laughter out of the audience.
The acting in these movies have always been pretty average, but the characters still stay likable. This film's no different. Dennis and Julie are the usual couple we've seen before in these movies, with Dennis camera-obsessed and paranoid, but ultimately right in his fears, and Julie unwilling to believe anything is wrong when something clearly is. It's another formulaic technique we've come to expect, but their still likable characters. The addition of the two girls and Dennis' friend Randy (Dustin Ingram) help break up the monotony. Randy provides plenty of comic relief.
I don't think "Paranormal Activity 3" is the best of the series in terms of story. That honor goes to part 2. It is the best in terms of new ways to make jump scares not feel so cheap. While this third film definitely has its flaws, what this series is doing with the found footage genre, and horror in general, is respectable. While the film isn't as "scary" as it's made out to be, it definitely has its moments. But the most sleep I lost wasn't over being scared, it was over what score I should give the film. In the end, it's a solid movie. While the ending left me dazed, I can still say I look forward to a 4th, and hopefully final film. If it's not final, then this formula will start to spoil.
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