I can pinpoint the moment I considered the 'Paranormal Activity' series to be committing blasphemy against itself. Sure, I could be a jerk and say the sequel, in its entirety, represented that moment, but there are ways to lower the bar even further apparently. While I was no fan of the way the second film didn't really fit in with the first one in terms of continuity, it wasn't anywhere near as awful a horror sequel as it could have been. It didn't entirely bastardize the first film, even if it took away a good amount of its power and mystique. No, the moment I called bullshit on the series was the moment I heard the word Toby.
While the first film was technically made in 2007, it wasn't unleashed until 2009, where it became a massive, surprise hit. Cue the sequel debuting in the same Halloween timeframe in 2010, whose story, like many a horror sequel, was rushed and almost identical to the first. Another year later, another horror film, only this time, one of the most hated terms in cinema is attached: prequel. Although titled 'Paranormal Activity 3,' this third film jumps back in time, all the way back to the late '80s, and tells us a story hinted at in the first film: the evil presence in the Featherton home that they grew up in. That said, the whole story isn't being told, opening the door for yet another pre-sequel.
Carlsbad, California. March, 2005. Katie and Kristi Featherston still have the semblance of normal lives. In fact, pregnant Kristi's life is so mundane that the moment Katie brings over a few boxes to store in her basement is a big enough deal to videotape. That day, they discover a box full of old VHS tapes from their childhood. Tapes that somehow escaped the horrible fire that took the family home sometime in the past. A year later, the house was broken into, and while left in disarray, the only thing missing was the box of VHS tapes.
From this moment on, 'Paranormal Activity 3' jumps back in time to show us what was on the tapes, from way back in 1988. The apparently professionally edited together tapes that everyone involved in making them forgot about. Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) and her older sister Katie (Chloe Csengery) are but children, living at home with their mother (Lauren Bittner) and her new boyfriend Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith), who works as a wedding filmmaker. One night, as the adults of the home settle in for bed with the camera on (that's right, folks, an attempt at a sex tape!), an earthquake interrupts (not enhances) the experience, and upon reviewing the tape, dust is shown just floating in the room, as if it landed on an invisible figure. This is the start of the strange occurrences in the household. Cameras are rigged in both bedrooms (and eventually to an oscillating fan to cover both the living room and kitchen back and forth), and six hour tapes are inserted every night. What happens can't be explained. Who is Kristi talking to late at night? Why is she walking around and doing strange things at three, four A.M.? Why is the furniture being moved? What just grabbed Katie and tried to drag her into a closet? Kristi insists it's "Toby," who everyone else assumes is her imaginary friend. Everyone assumed wrong.
I can't say why I named the unseen monster Sarah back in 2010, when I needed to give "the demon" a name so I wouldn't have to keep typing "the demon" over and over and over again. It just fit. We're talking about a creature acting like the most scorned, unrelenting stalker ex-girlfriend in history, only invisible, so why the hell not give it an awkward name and just move on? Well, here's the thing: I refuse to call Sarah "Toby." No. Michael Scott may be tortured by his own demon with the same name, but I'm not backing down. This is just a disclaimer before moving forward, so as to avoid confusion on why a strange name keeps showing up, and a disclaimer that, while I hated the name, it isn't the reason the film scored poorly. The main culprit for that is this funny thing I like to call continuity.
The first film in the series opened the door for a prequel, unintentionally, when Katie talked about her past to poor, poor Micah. So...it isn't exactly unexpected that we're now delving into and explaining the past in this series. The thing is...much like the sequel...it just doesn't make sense, so much so that a major plot point (the burning down of the family home) doesn't even happen. At least, not yet. There's no teasing about the infamous photo that Sarah somehow saved, not even the setup of having it taken, for future tie-in. No, instead, we have a super cheap gimmick that explains the use and ownership of the cameras, on top of the fact that we have a character who's such a dick that he videotapes every damn thing that happens in his life. Joy.
The film does one thing amazingly well, one thing terribly, and one thing terribly. First, it teases familiar hauntings from the other films in the franchise, down to the placement of the camera (the open door, the mirror), but doesn't show restraint, as a few familiar scenes happen yet again. Gee, a character stands in front of other characters in bed, viewed in fast forward. Haven't seen that in each film...That said, the way the family home is utilized for this film...it's really something. The layout is handled magnificently, from the creepy closet to the dangerous drops from second story to first. There's so much room for natural spooky shit, it's enough to tent one's hands and exclaim "excellent" like Mister Burns. What I can't look past, though, is the oscillating camera. With the constant pan back and forth, there's plenty of room for some seriously creepy shit, the slight movements that only a keen eye will catch, yet only once are we given a really effective use of this blatantly obvious device. It's completely mishandled, to the point that I'd say "botched" is an appropriate label for the use of the gimmick.
'Paranormal Activity 3' does a good job capturing an ambience, the innocence of childhood, with imagination running wild, and the true terror of the unexplained utterly wrecking the two young girls, and it does so with two fun surprise participants: Bloody Mary and Teddy Ruxpin. I about laughed my ass off in one scene, where the creepy closet was in the background, and Ruxpin was in focus, as if we were going to see its eyes or mouth move unexplainably, as if it were (more) possessed. The hauntings, the random odd moments...they're still not as effective as in the first film, when it was genuine and new (at least, new again), though, much like 'Paranormal Activity 2,' there is one great shot, and it's in the kitchen...
Again, the film devolves in some odd, stupid way. Again the ending really doesn't fit the rest of the film. Again, we're left with little to no resolution, opening the door for the fourth (already confirmed) film. Again, it could have been so much better. I like the concept of these films. They're minimalist in approach, and can be truly eery when done right. I don't like the repetition, as once again all the various cameras are flashed to before strange shit happens, as if we needed to check in with the entire world. I also don't like that Sarah isn't getting her respect, and apparently has a demon dick. And now is apparently also a pedophile. At least he's doing it the good Christian way by wanting to marry the girls before deflowering them. And here is where I remind readers that these kids are, shall we say, young enough to still earn discount admission to most venues. By about five plus years.
Someone call Chris Hanson. Sarah needs to go take a seat over there...
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Paranormal Activity 3' comes to Blu-ray in either DVD or Blu-ray packaging. The Blu-ray is a BD50 disc (supposedly Region A/B/C like other Paramount discs), and has no pre-menu anything, just a static screen with options. No video or audio loop. There is no feature explaining how these lost tapes got edited together and compiled. That still makes no sense.
The video for 'Paranormal Activity 3' is not meant to be pretty. It's not 'Blair Witch Project' level ugly, but the facts of this film are simple: the events take place in 1988, and the cameras are recording to videotapes. So, naturally, there's some aesthetic to the picture, the fact that it isn't glossy and shiny and digital looking. However, it also doesn't look believable, at all, considering the devices being recorded with. Take, for example, the oscillating fan-turn-camera. The weight of a camera alone should blow the shit out of those bearings, or overload the damn thing and cause it to drag, whine, and eventually stop, not just keep running perfectly, and even then I'm only talking about a light camera, which probably would look like utter hell, let alone one that records as nicely as the one in the film.
Ah well. Presented in 1080p using the AVC MPEG-4 encode, this pre-sequel makes for an interesting watch. Colors never band, but are also not consistent, going from warm (enough) with fairly good saturation to mostly off and undersaturated for the majority of the picture. There's some intentional slight noise, some heavier grain that massively affects skin tones and detail levels, and textures can be pretty darned solid and believable, all things considered. The fact that there's no artifacting or blocking of any kind, no chroma fringing, no moire, no real anomalies, they have me really questioning logistics. I'm no camera expert, and I'm sure some guru of the devices will be laughing his ass off at how un-edumacated I am about them and their capabilities and history, but I'm really not buying it here. The cameras turn to shit at the very end, but even that makes no sense. Perhaps Sarah influenced the recordings? Only thing that makes sense to me.
Much like the video, the audio for 'Paranormal Activity 3' is intentionally, kinda-sorta aimed at creating an era for the most part, maybe (I doubt the filmmakers really knew what the hell they were doing with the sound, let's be frank), so one cannot expect a major sonic experience. Let's just recap the things we know about the other two films: When Sarah appears, the room rumbles, and despite being filmed with handicams and other static devices that aren't capable of providing surround sound, often, surround sound is briefly mixed in there to confuse audiences about the technical aspects of the film.
This film is more of that logic. I love the intentional audio degradation and distortion early...but it fades away over time. That isn't one of those "you get used to it and you stop hearing it" kind of complaints...it's literally like The Thing from 'Fantastic Four,' how his rock feet will crunch with his movements at first, and then slowly it disappears. Anyways, the cameras do a good job of providing a realistic ambience for the film. The cameras have a constant light whir or whoosh to them, and exteriors pick up light wind. Bass levels naturally pick up for Sarah's footsteps, or her throwing tantrums to be a total dick, but don't precede her activities as much as in other films. The earthquake and a few other scenes have some pretty booming bass, it's quite nice. The fact that some noises in this film localize to the rears, or move from front to rear, really have me up in arms. I'd get them getting louder as they got closer to the camera, but come the hell on, already. Front speakers plus subwoofer, that's all this film should sound like. I'm no camera guru, but I know that no jerk with a few cameras in 1988 had his house wired for surround sound, especially when he picks up the camera and moves through the place.
Most of the extras in this set aren't ones I'd traditionally list in bullet fashion. Aside from the varying cuts of the film (Theatrical Cut and Extended Cut), there's a bonus DVD disc that also houses a traditional Digital Copy. On the paper code slip, there's also mention of the code being usable in the new UltraViolet method. As someone who never redeems said copies, a reader will have to clarify if only one or the other is usable, or if owners can redeem both disc based and cloud copies.
'Paranormal Activity' is pretty high on the creep factor. Its sequel, a bit less so, but there are still some pretty foul moments that are quite memorable. 'Paranormal Activity 3' didn't leave me with any spooky aftertaste, it left me wondering about how much of a pedophile Sarah turned out to be. This film just isn't creepy. It isn't scary. It isn't shocking nor is it suspenseful. It's...not so much a huge waste of time as much as it is an exercise in taking a film that was best left alone and throttling it to the point that no one cares anymore. I don't see the point in making more of these films. What's that? This one broke records for box office (not major ones, but records nonetheless)? I guess we're in for 18 more.
This Blu-ray release is hardly remarkable, for obvious reasons. It's supposed to be the '80s. It has some of that funk down, but it's still too darned polished. I don't get it. This is supposed to be a period piece, a representative of the missing tapes. Apparently they got remixed and reshot with more modern equipment.