By Matthew Dougherty, Special to the Chronicle
Remember last year when Paranormal Activity 2 came out and it wasn't completely terrible? In fact I would say it was quite good as it delivered the scares and built on the franchise's mythos. I am happy to report that the third installment does the same.
Paranormal Activity 3 takes place in 1988, almost twenty years before the events of the first two installments. This time we are looking at the sisters' childhood and the events that set in motion the chaos that would erupt later in their lives. The formula is more or less the same with a few new tricks, but it still works.
The camera work this time around is fantastic. We get three cameras: one on the parents' bedroom, one on the daughters' bedroom, and the most effective of the three is a camera on a swivel that slowly turns to view two different rooms in the downstairs area. The third camera delivers many of the scares in a way that the audience always knows when something is going to happen but keeps you guessing at what. Of all the camera set-ups in all three films I would say that this is the best for creating screams from the viewers. Also, when the camera is being handheld the way the characters carry it around corners is a modern "found footage" take on the way the camera follows the little boy on the tricycle in The Shining. Adapting this method for a new sub-genre of horror was a cool move and shows just how much these types of films have progressed over three decades as well as the influence the innovators of this franchise may be getting from the classics.
However, the camera does become a little less believable in this installment. There were a few too many moments for my liking where I had to ask myself "why is he filming this?". The purpose is to move the story forward, obviously, but it wasn't done as flawlessly as it was in the past two movies.
The quality of the scares ranges from "been there, done that" to "get me the out of here". The first half of the film is actually pretty boring as we get the same scare tactics as the first two. Doors slightly move, people out of bed when they shouldn't be, and various noises are heard throughout. But once the ball gets rolling you won't be able to close your eyes no matter how much you may want to. The terror is at an all time high for the terrifying climax.
As a horror sequel, Paranormal Activity 3 breaks many laws and it's surprisingly good. I can't think of another franchise in this genre that continues to pump out above average sequels. Sure, some aspects of the series are getting a bit old, but others are just as refreshing as the original.