Paranormal Activity 3 (2011), directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

Well with Paranormal Activity 4 opening today and my Horror Pledge continuing, I figured it was about time I caught up and watched the third installment of (some will find this horrific enough) the most popular modern horror franchise. This one, part 3, made over $100 million in the States alone. Now, that’s not enormous but considering it cost about $5 million to make and that Cabin in the Woods made about $65 million worldwide, that’s saying something.

I’m a Paranormal Activity defender. For one thing, I like found footage films when they’re done right. And the first two Paranormal Activity films were done right. I saw the first in theatres and it scared the bejesus out of me. I loved it. I went with a girlfriend (she probably doesn’t read this, so it’s OK. If she does it’s a nice story anyway) who claimed not to be scared and then months later still wouldn’t be able to sleep if I mentioned it.

I watched the second one alone in my house and it’s probably one of the few times since I was a kid that I actually went and made sure the door was locked after it ended. It unnerved me. I loved it. In fact, I think part 2 might actually be the better movie of the series.

That being said, I can’t defend part 3. For as good as the first two in the series are great, the third one is horrendously bad.

It’s hard to pin down what it is that makes this one so poor compared to the others. Maybe it’s just me catching up with the rest of the thinking world in getting tired of the gimmick. Because despite how much I liked the first two, this one really felt old and tired. People in beds. Strange noises. Slowly escalating weirdness. A spooky kitchen mess making. Etc. Etc.

That’s exactly the formula of the first two, but somehow it worked for those. In this one it is tedious and dull. Part of it is certainly just that the freshness of the gimmick is running out. We’ve seen this all before now. When the first film came out, we hadn’t, and it was scary as hell. Now we know what to expect and watching the film go through the motions is frankly painful.

It’s not without a couple of gasp moments but it takes so long in getting to them that by the time they come around you’ve really stopped caring. And the film’s ridiculous attempt to throw in an explanation for the haunting is laughable and misguided. The filmmakers devote all of 30 seconds to it, pretty much just an offhand comment, and figure that will do for plot. It has something to do with witches, I think.

I think part of the problem is having it set in the past too. If nothing else the PA series relies on being immediate. It’s all about that moment that you’re watching, and because of the technological component (ie. the cameras) it also relies on feeling up to date and current; in the now. By setting in the past and using old technology, that puts up a divide between the audience and the movie that significantly reduces the impact.

I had heard that part 3 was terrible. I had hoped that my blissful ignorance of whatever everyone else hates about the series would continue, but alas I fear I have caught up. Paranormal Activity needs to come up with something new, or just quit, before it becomes one of those horror series with endless sequels that no one cares about.

Somehow, part 4 will make a tonne of money this weekend. Some if it will be mine. But my anticipation is low.

Paranormal Activity 3 is available on home video.