Paranormal Activity 3
In my review of Paranormal Activity 2, I said that I fully expect the next instalment to hit theaters same time next year. That was in January, which makes Paranormal Activity 3's October release 3 months early - but logical, because, of course, Halloween. Which probably means we can expect Paranormal Activities 4, 5, 6 Ad Infinitum on our cinema schedules every October from now on. This third one certainly looks none the worse for having having less than a year's production time after the release of its immediate predecessor, to which it is perfectly comparable in terms of quality. If they can churn 'em out this fast, it should be no problem for Paramount Pictures to get one in theaters every Halloween.
And maybe some day, they'll even make one that's halfway as good as the first.
In 1988, Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) are young girls living with their mother Julie (Lauren Bittner) and her boyfriend Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith), who is a wedding videographer. When strange sounds and inexplicable occurrences start to happen, Dennis sets up cameras around the house in an effort to find out what's going on - which may have something to do with Kristi's "imaginary friend", Toby.
Short synopsis, innit? That's 'cos it's a distressingly simple story, and I do mean distressing. I was already dismayed to learn that this third entry in the series goes the prequel route once again, instead of following on from the second film's storyline; even if I didn't like it much, I'd be interested to (SPOILER ALERT) follow Ali's efforts to rescue her baby brother. Paranormal Activity 3 amplifies the prequel problem of the last one, in that it's a story that you already know won't go anywhere nor have any major impact on the timeline. Katie and Kristi aren't gonna remember much of what happened here - they certainly didn't remember the first time they were constantly filmed by a camera-obsessed male family member - and are certainly not gonna die either. Everyone else, however, is fair game.
Which wouldn't be so bad if these new characters were interesting, enough so you could care whether they survive. They're not. The characters of 2 were already a lot sketchier than Katie and Micah of the first, but at least they were likable (or Kristi and Ali were; Dan was a moron). In 3, they're barely even there. Dennis and Julie have no discernible personality whatsoever, other than he's the curious one and she's the disbelieving one. Little Katie and Kristi do the Creepy Child thing and not much more. In fact, there are two extended scary sequences featuring two completely peripheral characters - a babysitter (Johanna Braddy) and a friend of Dennis' named Randy (Dustin Ingram); it's also pretty laughable how they both get freaked out by something freaky, then both of them vamoose outta there without even telling Dennis or Julie what happened.
And Julie gets the thankless Dan role as the annoying skeptic (by the way, as an avowed skeptic myself, it wasn't so much Dan's disbelief that was annoying as it was his callous refusal to even entertain his obviously-terrified wife's and daughter's fears). But even Dan went through a gradual progression from skeptic to believer; here, Julie spends the entire first half scoffing, then BAM one spooky jump-scare later and she brings on the next plot point. There's hardly any story here; it's a wafer-thin structure on which to hang a mostly disconnected series of BAM jump-scares. Don't expect much in the way of expanding the series' mythology either; we already know that the demon haunting both girls has its roots in some witchy business their family was involved in - and that's exactly what happens. And that's why their grandmother (Hallie Foote) is in the movie as well, which ain't no spoiler at all if you've seen 2.
So all that earns it 2-½ stars (the same rating I gave the last installment) is its jump-scares. Other than two annoyingly fake ones - i.e. people literally jumping out and yelling "BOO!" at the camera - the scares here are more effective than 2's, which I am hard-pressed to even remember right now. One pretty ingenious trick is a camera placed on the base of an oscillating fan, so that it slowly pans back and forth across their living room and kitchen. It generates some deliciously suspenseful moments with every pan, waiting for something to show up that wasn't there a few seconds ago. There are also scary things happening while one's back is turned to the rest of the (dimly-lit, of course) room, and scary things happening while one's loved ones are nearby but too preoccupied to hear your screams - both of which are clever scares that approach the effectiveness of the first film. That's what fans of the series want, and they'll get enough to make them happy.
But that paper-thin plot still annoys me. It seems to herald the direction for the future of the franchise - because there is zero possibility that the studio are not at this very moment developing more Activities of a Paranormal Nature. They'll probably go the prequel route again, maybe one set after the events of this entry, in which yet another person enters Katie's and Kristi's lives who coincidentally has lots of video filming equipment on hand. It's probably not gonna bother explaining that, any more than it seems interested in exploring the future of its timeline rather than the past. With this third installment, the series looks set to join Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street and Hellraiser as horror franchises whose returns diminished rapidly after a great first film - and will probably go on long after it starts to suck.
NEXT REVIEW: Sumpahan Puaka
Expectations: don't know a damn thing about it