2.5 Stars out of 4
Here we are a year later with Paranormal Activity 3. It does what it can considering it is no longer an original phenomenon. By now we know the demon is hostile, it wants the family’s first born son, and has a knack for jump scares. In a way, the monster is everywhere but nowhere; stairs creak, doors slam, and lights flicker all to produce a scream from the audience and then some ensuing laughter. Oops, the monster did it again.
Paranormal Activity 3 is a prequel to the first film, a nifty novelty that made you fear the suburban American home. The irony is the film surrounds the first family to be tormented by the creature, yet we’ve been through this two times before. The flick situates in the Rey’s residence (mostly), with mother Julie (Lauren Bittner), boyfriend Daniel (Brian Boland), and two daughters Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) and Katie (Chloe Csengery). The film is directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman who did Catfish. And no, our spookster never surfs Facebook.
The set-up remains the same: the family hears suspicious noises, and Daniel – the active male character – decides to record these strange happenings. There’s something to be said about the adult male’s sense of curiosity. To cap it off, his idea was prompted by spotting a bizarre presence that was watching Daniel and Julie during a sex tape. That scene, unfortunately, cannot be suspenseful because the MPAA insists that Mr. Creature jump in before the two climax.
But, anyway. Our fellow fiend has a name now: Toby. It’s coined by Kristi, who starts to have casual interactions with him (her?) over tea parties. As always, the parents believe it’s a figment of her imagination because adults are always oblivious to the horror film they are in.
Nothing else is very much explained. It does not really matter, because in the end Toby will have his way. What the film amounts to are characters who are overshadowed by jump scares that are overshadowed by the audience. Paranormal Activity 3, like the previous two, pay off with our reactions. The film’s sole purpose is to endlessly trick us into screaming. We do, and then we laugh because we are going to fall for it again.
Paranormal Activity 3 is not an excellent horror flick like the first or, especially, The Blair Witch Project. This is because our imagination is no longer required. We know what is going to happen, just not how. The film’s redeeming quality is that it succeeds in what it wants to do: scare, scare, scare. It’s not the natural, lingering, and spine-tingling suspense of a Hitchcock, because it’s about the surprise element. This makes it cheap entertainment, where I would estimate about one dollar per scream. So there’s about 10 real good spooks.
Undeniably, the film is a gimmick but one with a level of craft. The directors make strong use of audio-visual, so that our eyes are constantly moving, looking for the scare only for it to jump unexpectedly right in front of us. Thankfully, the filmmakers were wise not pandering with 3D because the power of the visual effects come from the fact this looks like raw footage or the stuff of Youtube. 3D would take a Hollywood gimmick and slap it onto another gimmick, which would be a fatal error.
In any case, you want scares you got ‘em. I liked the addition of the traversing video camera, the Bloody Mary sequence, and the finale where Toby performs some chiropractics on one of the hapless characters. You’ll know what I mean. The movie, however, has trouble explaining how the monster follows the Rey family to Moonpark, California. Mapquest? Strapped itself under the car a la De Niro in Cape Fear? I dunno.
I remember witnessing Paranormal Activity in 2009 on one of those rainy days, when I just needed to get the bejesus scared out of me. I took a bus with a friend to the only theater showing it in the city. It was about a two-hour trek, but it was worth it. We huddled like children, as if this was Psycho in 1960. Watching this third installment, I realized I once fell and keep falling for a joke that’s punch line is “Here: watch me scare you.” There must be some humor in this film grossing 8 million dollars over the midnight screenings alone – the most this series has yet. Looks like we’re still laughing.