I bet you’re thinking “I didn’t know they made three Paranormal Activity movies.” Well, neither did I. I don’t recall seeing many advertisements for it when it came out back in October but Netflix offered the title up as a suggestion so I added it to my queue.

The posters for all three movies are almost identical.

Up front I’m suspicious of the film, sequels are rarely as good as the original and in this case the original wasn’t really all that good.  I like Paranormal Activity well enough, the idea is novel enough but I found it to have serious pacing issues. If you’ve never seen it, the premise of the first film is simple – the girl (Katie) has been experiencing some “strange events” so her boyfriend decides to set up a camera to catch anything that might happen. Eighty-five percent of the film is the two of them sleeping in bed, which is about as exciting as you can imagine, interspersed with the two bitching at each other and the occasional lamp swinging around or loud thumping noise. Nearly everything interesting happens in the last fifteen minutes. The second film followed the family of Katie’s sister Kristi and there was much more “activity” as well as the introduction of an actual motive for the events. In the first the invisible “demon” that torments the couple really doesn’t have a reason for doing so, but in the second there is some discussion about why this would be happening. One character theorizes that it would be possible to sell or bargain the soul of a first-born son to gain power or wealth, but that no male children had been born to the family for several generations until Kristi’s son is born. Weird, but odd things are happening so it’s logical that people would be looking for any explanation.

The third film is a prequel and takes place in 1988. The rationalization for this is a box of VHS cassettes that Katie brings over to Kristi’s house that later vanish. This also brings up the first problem I have – if the cassettes are missing, where did all the “found footage” come from? With the exception of a few minutes, most of the ’88 footage is far sharper and crisper than what it should be, but I guess there is such a thing as being too accurate. It’s also kinda absurd that so many members of the same family would be so obsessed with filming themselves sleeping – especially back in the late 80’s when there wasn’t really any consumer technology available to do this. There is a throw-away line when one of the little girls asks about the tapes and the mother’s boyfriend (a wedding videographer) explains that the tapes only last six hours. This would mean that he would have to be changing them four times a day and there are eventually three cameras in the house. That’s a hell of a lot of tape, a lot more than there appears to be in the box Katie brings over. Even though Kristi’s husband makes a few comments about watching the tapes, it’s unlikely any of the family members watched them as two deaths and multiple odd events occur over the course of the several days filming occurred and none of the characters from the first films ever mention any of it.

The invisible demon, who is also the youngest daughter’s imaginary friend Toby,returns and is much more active than in the first two movies and there are a couple of pretty clever scenes. I have two particular favorites, the first occurs pretty early on. After their attempt to make a sex tape is mercifully cut short by an earthquake, the camera gets knocked over and forgotten as the couple rush out to check on the girls. Dust falls from the ceiling and settles on … nothing – a nothing shaped somewhat like a person. A few seconds later the shape shakes off the dust. A simple effect, but very well done. The second occurs near the end, when the mother is still refusing to believe that anything odd was going on. The boyfriend had altered an oscillating fan to act as a rotating camera mount covering the living room and kitchen. The mother is on the phone and walks into the kitchen when she hears a sound at the front door. She goes to the door as the camera slowly pans over the kitchen, showing the usual mess you find in most kitchens, and then slowly pans back to the living room where the mother finds no one at the door. She walks back towards the kitchen (as the camera just happens to be following her) and is shocked to see that all the mess – the countertop clutter, the appliances, even the table – are all gone. She stands there for a few seconds before everything falls from the ceiling with a loud crash as the camera pans back towards the living room. This of course freaks her out. The editing is good, the fan-mounted camera’s motion is smooth, and as a movie nerd I’m impressed at the effort it would take to rig up such a practical effect. The rest of the movie is pretty forgettable, I just watched it before writing up this review and I’m having trouble recalling specifics. Towards the end there is a coven of witches introduced and it is implied that they brainwash young girls into having sons for reasons that aren’t really clear (but are probably demon-related) and that’s about all the reasoning the audience gets.

Overall it’s not a bad movie for what it is, but it suffers the same slow pacing as the others in the series. It’s to be expected, watching the “real life” of a family isn’t much fun, but if I wanted to watch “boring stuff-boring stuff- something slightly interesting-more boring stuff” then I’d just watch one of those ghost-hunting shows on TV. If you liked the first or second movie then you would probably like this one, but I’m indifferent to it.

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