With so many found footage supernatural horror films out in the open already, you would wonder just how many would be enough before the genre becomes stale. Easily one of the most successful in terms of box office numbers and sheer ingenuity, Paranormal Activity seemed to have so far built on the strengths of its predecessor film, and with each installment throws the gauntlet down to the next creative team to see how much more they can add to its universe. This time round directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, responsible for the documentary Catfish, brings out the usual arsenal of scares to great effect, bringing us back some 18 years prior to the events seen in Parts 1 and 2, to shed some light on its origins, yet keeping the door wide open for any creative team to either fill in the blanks between this film and Part 1, or to venture forward from Part 2.
And credit goes to writer Christopher B. Landon, who brings to the franchise plenty of room to do just that, and in some ways being very generous in crafting a tale that has the legs to provide for any follow up film, if this installment does well, to continue where it left off and bridge the story toward Part 1, or to go even further back, but not too far since this one is set in the 80s, just about the time where VHS beat Betamax in being the video recording format of choice, and any further would mean stretching the limits of having artifacts for audiences like us to rummage through with glee.
Landon had introduced the sisters Katie (Katie Featherston) and Kristi (Sprague Grayden) whom we have come acquainted with, and opens the film just before the original film, where a box of VHS tapes got found, and so we begin a trip back to the past, introducing us to the time when the sisters were kids (Chloe Cserngey as the younger Katie and Jessica Brown as younger Kristi), their mom Julie (Lauren Bittner) and her live in boyfriend Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) who conveniently for the sake of the story, is much of a documentarian himself and by nature of his job, has a video editing suite in one of the rooms in the house. Everything's fine and dandy at home, until two and then three video cameras get put around the house, and we start to witness Kristi's communication with a certain Toby, who remains unseen. Yes, the haunting has begun.
You may wonder just how much more quality material could be included, and Joost and Schulman showed us just how. While Part 1 had utilized what was primarily a one video camera recording in the bedroom, and Part 2 being more sophisticated with multiple CCTV cameras deployed around the house, Part 3 strikes a balance between the two, with up to three cameras deployed in the bedrooms of the adult couple and the kids, followed by a pan-camera between the hall and the kitchen/dining space. And besides having the hauntings experienced only by the direct family members, Landon's story has it expanded to include the babysitter and Dennis' buddy (Dustin Ingram) in very dramatic, intense episodes that bring the creeps head on.
While a bigger budget provided for a lot more that can be done in terms of special effects sprucing up the creepy moments on screen, from levitation, flying furniture and the likes, undoubtedly this film aces it when required to build anticipation, with silent moments growing almost deafening, and sound design at its best when tasked to maximize scare impact, although steering from becoming too cheap with many falling reliant on loud noises to compensate for its desperate lack of finesse in conjuring up scary images. You know something's coming by way of the running clock on the video sped up and then slowing down, and the directors are experts at teasing with shadowy figures lurking sporadically in the background if you care to look a little bit closer. It's goosebumps galore, with technical diligence and brilliance combined to keep scenes flowing in continuous long takes, hardly taking a breather especially when the supernatural elements begin.
Whatever happened to Hunter will remain unsolved for now. But if this will prove to be as successful as its predecessors this upcoming Halloween period, I suppose the answer won't be too far behind us. This is highly recommended, and while the first two films would have made you quite chummy with the key characters, Part 3 can be viewed as a standalone episode, or viewed first to keep the time chronology in order. If you're up for a proper spook fest, Paranormal Activity 3 will show why it still remains at the top of its game and its peers, and for budding filmmakers who want a crack at the horror genre, this will be something as a reference point and lessons to be learnt in keeping up the suspense and delivering when it matters.