Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
Directed by: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Starring: Lauren Bittner, Christopher Nicholas Smith, Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown, Hallie Foote, Dustin Ingram, Johanna Braddy, Katie Featherston, Brian Boland, Sprague Grayden
1/2 (out of 4)
Warning: Some Spoilers Ahead
If you think that’s bad, wait ’till you see his wedgies!
Paranormal Activity 3 is another prequel in the successful Paranormal Activity series, which audiences flock to every Halloween, although after watching it I can’t imagine what the hell they see in this thing. It’s an entry in the supernatural found-footage genre that revisits the story of sisters Katie and Kristi, who are basically cursed to be haunted by a demon, thanks to the efforts of a witches coven run by their grandmother. The movie shows everything through VHS recordings supposedly taken in 1988 when the doomed sisters were kids – a novel concept, except for the fact that it’s not novel at all, this being Paranormal Activity 3 (and now sharing the space with Cannibal Holocaust, The Blair Witch Project, REC, Cloverfield, The Last Exorcism, TrollHunter, Apollo 18, and V/H/S). I still don’t know if found-footage is now just another valid style of movie-making or if its still just another gimmick. In any case, it isn’t enough to save this film, which keeps drawing from the same well as the previous two movies. And that well is close to dry.
Baba Booey shows off his A/V equipment for Sound & Vision
A quick introduction shows the grown up Kristi (at this time pregnant with Hunter from the second film) and Katie (before the events of the first film) admiring the baby’s room they are painting. Katie drops off a box of VHS tapes, which later disappears when Kristi’s house is ransacked. The movie then shows us the contents of those tapes, which take place in September, 1988. Little Katie (Chloe Csengery) and little Kristi (Jessica Brown) live with their mom Julie (Lauren Bittner) and Julie’s new boyfriend Dennis (Chris Smith). Dennis is a wedding photographer and doesn’t have much money, which grandma Lois (Hallie Foote) laments, along with the fact that Julie never had a boy like she wanted (or maybe grandma wants that, for nefarious purposes). In any case, things start getting weird in the house, beginning with strange noises, followed by an earthquake that hits while Dennis and Julie are taping themselves during a lovemaking session (and Julie is briefly seen smoking a joint, which seems like a Poltergeist nod the more I think about it). Dennis is watching the footage later and sees an outline of an apparently invisible figure covered with dust, so he decides to set up cameras all over the house. (The fact that the crisp footage seems too modern for 80s VHS cameras is just something you’ll have to get past). In one scene, Dennis places a camera on top of a modified oscillating fan, so he can see both the living room and the kitchen with the same recorder. This is a clever trick, because the movie can guide our vision from one setting to another setting and back again, letting us anticipate what’s going to be different when it comes back around.
The thing is, almost everything that happens in Paranormal Activity 3 is stuff you have already seen in the other films. Possessed family member standing in front of somebody’s bed for an hour? Check. Kitchen items dropping from the ceiling? Check. Noises, doors slamming, people being dragged around by invisible entities – it’s all here. Paranormal Activity 2 took a little too long to get to the action; this movie is even worse. After constant switching of one steady-camera recording to another, and an oscillating camera moving back and forth over and over again, I started checking my watch. Seriously, almost an hour elapses before anything of any consequence or interest happens in this film. How would you like stumbling upon some of your family’s early VHS recordings only to find boring security cam footage? That’s what Paranormal Activity 3 feels like sometimes. And of course, as seen also in PA2, a family member refuses to believe anything about supernatural entities haunting the house, even though all the evidence is right there on the camera footage. But for some reason, Julie doesn’t want to hear about it.
After enough ghostly nonsense goes down that even Julie gets the picture, everyone leaves the house for grandma’s, where Dennis and Julie make an unfortunate discovery – they have jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. The final sequence at least kicks things up a notch, but it’s a good case of “too little, too late.” When the final credits roll, you’ll be thinking “That’s it?” There’s not much else to say about Paranormal Activity 3. You hardly get to know the characters very well, and the “boo” moments are predictable enough that there’s not much to be scared of. Even the anticipated “Bloody Mary” sequences promise some kind of thrill that never fully materializes. But make no mistake – this is formula, and it seems to work with a lot of people. It’s actually starting to remind me of the craze attached to the Ju-on movies, another series of films I wasn’t too impressed with.
It would appear that the Paranormal Activity series has now taken over for the Saw series in the sense that you can expect one cranked out every Halloween. Until audiences decide not to pay good money to see these things, it will be as reliable as the sun rising. Paranormal Activity 3 is the cause of increasing box office returns for Paramount (it’s the highest grossing film in the series and pulled in over $205,000, 000 worldwide). But for me, the series’ ability to scare and surprise is subject to diminishing returns, the found-footage gimmick almost played out, the plot increasingly threadbare. I think they should turn off the cameras now.
– Bill Gordon
Boo! See you next October, folks!
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