Although The Blair Witch Project could be credited with bringing the found-footage horror movie to the mainstream, Paranormal Activity was the catalyst for the genre's explosion. Since its release in 2007, legions of copycats have given the found-footage treatment to several classic horror genres, including sci-fi (Cloverfield, Spain's [REC] and its American counterpart Quarantine), exorcism horrors (The Last Exorcism) and even space thrillers (Apollo 18). The genre is zeitgeist-y in our times of reality TV and excessive documentation, it's budget-friendly in the recession era (it only cost $11,000 to make Paranormal Activity) and the night vision function on hand-held video cameras is just a really spooky device.
The film's low budget and unknown cast made Paranormal Activity disturbingly realistic — the nighttime demon hauntings happen in a carpeted, Bed Bath & Beyond-furnished house that looks like it could belong to any young couple you know — and therefore nightmare inducing. It got favorable reviews, something usually hard to achieve for horror movies. A sequel followed, which was mildly scary but sort of paint-by-numbers, hinting that the Paranormal Activity series would follow the same playbook of scares and become a critically loathed, never ending horror franchise the likes of Saw or Final Destination.
But today a third installment hits theaters, and it's getting a few pans, but also some high marks from The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The A.V. Club . It might be because of the addition of new directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the guys behind the 2010 documentary Catfish, a taut cautionary tale about Facebook romances. It could also be because the movie's main characters are kids, and kids make everything scarier. In this pre-prequel, the sisters who were the protagonists of the previous two films are children who are starting to deal with the demons (actual demons!) that would continue to plague their adult lives.
It's almost Halloween, which means it's time to spend way too much money to have some sort of manufactured "haunted" experience. You could either go pay to have people in convincing zombie makeup scream at you at The House of Shock, see ghost alligators (I'm assuming?) on a "Boat Ride of Terror," or you could splurge on AMC movie tickets and giant bags of popcorn and see Paranormal Activity 3 in a packed house. I've done it before and based on audience reactions alone, I highly recommend it — but don't get mad at me if you can't sleep for a week.
Check our movie listings site for local showtimes.