Paranormal Activity 3

Here we go again. The “found-footage” horror genre’s most famous series gets its next installment with this supernatural thriller. Similar to Paranormal Activity 2, this is a prequel – coming 18 years prior to the last entry. We go back to when Katie and Kristi were young girls. They live with their mother Julie and her boyfriend Dennis, a videographer who looks somewhat like James Franco in 127 Hours. Kristi begins interacting with an imaginary friend named Toby. Soon after Dennis and Julie start hearing strange noises in the house late at night. Determined to get to the cause of the disturbances, Dennis sets up cameras throughout their home to document what is happening.

The “found footage” style is especially effective in the horror category because it makes the drama feel true. I’ll admit there are some authentic surprises. A common mechanism in producing terror is for the cinematographer to use a pan and scan format so that something not present originally, now unexpectedly appears in the frame. The clever contribution with part 3 is for our protagonist to mount a camera onto an oscillating fan so that we get many examples of this method. It’s a powerful technique but not enough to sustain a full feature. There’s no substance. Paranormal Activity 3 is the cinematic equivalent of a jelly donut. It’s tasty while you’re eating it, but once finished you’re left with scant nutritional value.

Call it the law of diminishing returns. The first was a landmark in horror and the second was able to push the mythology forward by simply being a prequel. But now we are presented ANOTHER prequel and precious little is added to the blueprint. Children are a compelling device in arousing anxiety. We identify with their fear and want to protect them By taking an individual that is a source of joy and then threatening that, a filmmaker can always wring a few scares from the setup. The problem is, the story never attempts anything more than just formula. This is a direct copy of the other two with no innovative takes on shocking the audience differently. This copies all we’ve seen and been frightened of before. How many times can we see bodies dragged across the floor and doors seemingly slamming on their own volition? I suggest twice. The gimmicks wear out its welcome this time around. A person suddenly jumping from a closet might be good for a superficial jolt, but does nothing to engender genuine terror.

I was a big fan of the original. Even the second film, albeit similar, still managed to add a decent history to keep me interested. Granted there are several alarming scares here, including at least one nice special effect involving the kitchen. But honestly, there’s no way you could enjoy watching these pictures back to back. With this chapter, the chronology has become  routine. Everything is reminiscent of the previous two, even the ending. That’s the biggest slap in the face because you leave the theater feeling cheated. A giant step backward, the inevitable Paranormal Activity 4 will need to re-invent itself or this series, much like a real ghost, is dead.

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6 Responses to “Paranormal Activity 3”

  1. magnolia12883 Says:

    I am on the fence about seeing this this week. I saw TAKE SHELTER this afternoon and it will have me plenty freaked out in the ramp up toward Halloween

  2. I’m not surprised that you gave Paranormal Activity 3 an average score, as I was expecting it to go downhill. However, I am a crazy fan of the series, and I am going to go see it in theaters on Sunday, the 23rd (tomorrow). Also watched #1 last night and watching #2 tonight in preparation. Great review, though!

  3. This was not as scary or creative as the first two. I got some good jolts but story end, left me with questions. I was also angry that nothing from the previews were in the movie.

  4. Markus Robinson Says:

    Agreed. I don’t think the series is dead, BUT this was a step back primarily because of the end and well, this is same old same old.

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