Although I understand the occasional 'found footage' flick isn't for everyone, I find a good number of critics to be so hung up on judging films based on some formula of quality they've drafted in their minds, that when they step into a film like Paranormal Activity they end up entirely missing the point. And you know what? I love reading their misguided reviews. I know I sound a little disenchanted if not downright bitter, but as you might already know from reading my previous reviews, I'm not exactly a fan of Hollywood's inner-workings, and that's a feeling that extends to those 'professional' critics that are afraid to rock the boat with an unpopular opinion. Just to illustrate this point a bit, allow me to pose a question - Do any of you actually take professional reviews seriously? Are you looking at the popular talking heads and making a decision on whether or not to see a particular film based on what they have to say? No? I didn't think so. It's for this very reason I love watching them try to intellectualize their way out of an entertaining flick, because in the end their 'opinions' really don't matter. Films like this are outrageously cheap to produce and obtain equally outrageous returns from box office and home video sales, meaning regardless of what they say, another installment is sure to hit theaters within 12 short months. Well, predictably, the critics have panned Paranormal Activity 3 just as I thought (and hoped) they would. The question is, did their complaints this time around actually ring true?
If you're unfamiliar with the previous outings, all you really need to know is that the plot is centered around a couple of sisters, Katie and Kristi. They've been haunted by the same demonic entity that's been giving them the willies on and off since they were kids, but now that they're all grown up and have taken in what would be perceived as protectors - a live-in boyfriend for Katie and a full blown family for Kristi - the evil spook has come back in full force to do whatever is necessary to keep the girls all to itself. Paranormal Activity focused solely on Katie and her live-in boyfriend, and all of the things that went bump in the night were never explained to the audience. We were left to imagine why this thing ever entered Katie's life to begin with and why it continued to remain obsessed with her as she got older. In Paranormal Activity 2, which actually paralleled the time frame of the first film, some answers came to light and we were given a taste of the events that transpire after these parallel storylines merge to become one. Of course, I thought the only logical path for Paranormal Activity 3 would be to continue the story from that point, but I was concerned the brilliantly executed cliffhanger endings from the first two films would be cheapened as a result. However, those working diligently on the franchise behind-the-scenes year after year have decided to do us one better - They've transported us back in time via old VHS footage to actually see the haunting the girls had to endure.
You don't even have to read the reviews to know what the critics have had to say - The film not only lacks any 'intelligent' scares, but the same old tricks have been utilized yet again so the studio can suck up as much profit without having to really focus on making a good film. Me? Obviously, I think they're a bunch of broken records. Yes, some of the same 'tricks' have been used again, but one has to remember that all three of these films are dealing with the same angry demon. Of course his style is going to remain similar from one haunting to the next. It's the only calling card an evil piece of crap like that can leave behind, you know? Honestly, I think that this is, hands down, the scariest installment in the series to date. This film has two big things going for it - First, the primary victims this time are children, and second, there's a nostalgia factor that enhances the entire experience. As someone who grew up in the 80's and is currently a parent, this really comes as a double whammy to my psyche. It's horrifying to see what these little girls had to put up with because the parents are obviously unable to protect them, and if there's one single thing that scares a parent above all else, it's being helpless in a situation where your children are suffering. On the flip side of the coin, I'm able to put myself in the girls shoes because the film takes place in the same decade I spent a good chunk of my childhood in. I was able to think back to how it felt to be alone in the dark with nothing but some silly light in the corner, and a loveable yet equally creepy Teddy Ruxpin sitting on a chair looking right at me. As a result, I felt like I was more connected to the events happening on screen than ever before. In the end, that's all a film like Paranormal Activity 3 really needs to be... effective. And I'll be damned if this isn't the most effective flick of the bunch.
That's not to say that this movie doesn't have its share of flaws, because it does. I've been an avid supporter of the first two films because I felt like the puzzle pieces fit, but Paranormal Activity 3 doesn't have the same success. No, certain story elements merely feel like they've been shoehorned in to keep the ball rolling. Right out of the gate we're subjected to even more 'found' footage from Kristi's family, conveniently showing us where the VHS tapes in question came from. However, the biggest problem the film has rests in its final moments. In an effort to provide the audience with a climax that would top the previous films and then some - which, to be fair, they've succeeded in doing - the creative team have plotted themselves right out of plausibility in the process. In the previous entries, Katie and Kristi have hinted at their troubled paranormal past, but the fact that none of the events that transpire at the end of Paranormal Activity 3 were ever mentioned is a problem. The events that close out the film are so over the top, I find it hard to believe that both sisters would have failed to bring it up in conversation in the first two flicks. Furthermore, the final moments are the first time in the Paranormal Activity saga that I actually felt like I had been watching something straight out of scripted Hollywood. This sincerely has me worried about where they're going to go for the next film, because the whole 'reality' aspect is what made these films scarier than most, and if they're not going to keep us grounded in that reality... well, it doesn't bode well for the franchise, to say the least.
Anyway, let's not get into a discussion that's better left for the next installment (which has already been slated for an October release in 2012, by the way), and instead get back to the original question - Did reviewers have some merit in their complaints this time around? As far as providing us with an origin story that seems too excessive not to have been mentioned before, absolutely. Also, if you're not a fan of found footage films in general, Paranormal Activity 3 isn't going to change your mind. That being said, if you're checking this film out you're probably already a fan of such films, and let's be honest - You don't really care that much about the plot discrepancies, right? You just want to experience massive amounts of thrills and chills, and if this film's predecessors managed to creep you out, then this installment is going to give you the most shocking dose of fright yet.
**If you needed another reason to check this film out on home video, it's worth noting that this release contains both theatrical and unrated cuts, the latter of which contains an extra ten minutes of material. Some of it is just some further background info being shared between the father and his business associate, but a couple of frights have been added to the mix as well, including another Bloody Mary sequence that closely resembles the teaser trailer, and a scene of one of the girls leaping from their balcony (another trailer scene that didn't make it into the main feature). It's nice to see these clips reinserted back into the film and all, but I can see why they were left out. Much like the films before it, Paranormal Activity 3 utilizes a slow burn technique that keeps upping the ante up until the very end. I find this to be especially well crafted in the franchise's third entry's theatrical cut, but these added sequences just seem to throw the timing off. If you've already seen the theatrical cut then I wholeheartedly recommend viewing the unrated cut, but it's my personal opinion that the theatrical cut is the superior presentation overall.
Presented in 1080p via the AVC codec (1.78:1), Paranormal Activity 3 looks surprisingly good. Keep in mind, this movie is supposed to look like old VHS footage, but the filmmakers have wisely decided to only alter the image enough to feed us the illusion that we're watching such low grade tape. The tape marks and blurriness associated with the dinosaur format are laid on rather thick at the start, but it isn't long before the image cleans up just enough to appease the HD crowd while still providing that VHS look. That being said, considering what the fictional source footage is supposed to look like, Paranormal Activity 3 obviously doesn't sparkle - Colors are as bold as they're allowed to be, but the palette has been washed out just a tad for artistic reasons, sharpness is obviously not very impressive, and black levels are inconsistent. This is all par for the course though when it comes to this particular franchise, and the Blu-ray absolutely nails the intended look right down to a T. The only realistic complaint I can come up with is that there's some minor macroblocking, but for some strange reason, I feel like I remember seeing that in theaters as well. Either way, this is as solid a release as we could expect for such a film, and when the 'source' is inherently ugly, HD is the best way to get every detail available. Don't even think about standard definition!
Although the filmmakers have opted for strict authenticity in the video department, they instead opt for an effective sound design as opposed to a realistic one. Again, keep in mind that this is supposed to be old VHS footage. Yep, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track provides the listener with pinpoint surround effects when applicable, deep rumbling bass for the nighttime bangs and hums, and realistic audible depth. Despite not adhering to the whole 'VHS footage' illusion, I could really care less. If a film's bread and butter is all about delivering the 'boo' scares from time to time, then the sound needs to be able to get me just as much as the visual do. In this respect, Paranormal Activity 3 doesn't disappoint, and yet again I highly doubt the DVD can provide the same kind of spooky environmental ambience this lossless track. True, this may not sound as good as your typical Hollywood fare, but for a bump in the night kind of film, this is about as good as it gets.
I guess I'm not really surprised, but this release really doesn't offer much in the way of extras:
-Scare Montage - This really isn't as interesting as it sounds. It's only a couple of minutes of footage of Dennis scaring his wife, Julie.
-Dennis' Commercial - Not riveted by the groundbreaking special features yet? Well, here's a commercial for Dennis' business! And it's just under a minute in length! Really guys? This is all you had for us?
Also included are various copies of the film - DVD, digital and UV. If it makes you feel better, I guess you can count the unrated cut of the film as a supplemental feature but... nah, you know what? Let's just call this release for what it is - Practically bare bones.
Paranormal Activity 3 certainly doesn't break the mold, but it knows how to hit those goose-pimples where it counts. Yes, the film may have received some justified criticism for a plot that meanders into unbelievable territory after all is said and done, but that still doesn't take away from the fact that this is still the scariest and best paced Paranormal Activity yet, and I'm sure as hell not afraid to admit it! This release contains both theatrical and unrated cuts, but that's disappointingly all this release really has to offer, other than a faithful A/V presentation and more digital versions of the film than you'll know what to do with. Despite the lack of any worthwhile supplements, the film itself is strong enough to still warrant a recommended rating to everyone that doesn't have unrealistic expectations, and enjoys the found footage genre for what it is.