PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3
*** (out of 5)
October 21, 2011
Christopher Nicholas Smith as DENNIS
Lauren Bittner as JULIE
Chloe Csengery as KATIE
Jessica Tyler Brown as KRISTI
Directed by: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Two years ago, right around this time, I became a champion of “Paranormal Activity.” It was one of those movies in 2009 that brought back the theatrical experience because it offered something special when you saw it in a crowded theater. The crowd’s reaction is part of the “Paranormal Activity” experience, and that’s part of what made that first film so effective.
Then the sequel came out, right around this time as well, and while I can respect it for delivering essentially the same thing to the audience while being consistent with the overall storyline, I found that installment to be woefully repetitive and bitterly imitative of the first film. Plus, the casting of Sprague Grayden, whom I had seen all over the television in series like “24” and “Sons of Anarchy,” took me out of the whole found footage experience.
Now we’re two years removed from the first “Paranormal Activity,” the franchise is one of the biggest return-on-investment moneymakers out there and it has replaced the “Saw” series as the go-to blockbuster of Halloween. And it’s nice to see that, as an ongoing franchise, this prequel plugged some of the holes that made the second film relatively lame.
“Paranormal Activity 3” is a prequel to the prequel, and it tells the story from 1988 when Katie and Kristi were just girls. They seem to be in a happy family with their mother and new step-dad, but as expected, there are some spooky things happening in the house. Because the step-dad is a wedding videographer, he has the equipment to tape the family and try to discover what’s going on, finding a bunch of evidence that something is haunting them.
Forget the slew of problems this film has in terms of anachronisms and technology. Only a nerd like me is going to notice that a VHS camera from 1988 won’t give such a nice hi-def picture, or that there’s no way to get such a high quality image from a tape set to the six-hour EP mode. The days of plugging a computer directly in your laptop and recording to the hard drive are more than ten years away. I can look past those much better than I can the casting of known actors in the lead roles.
On the whole, “Paranormal Activity 3” is a much better composed film that its predecessor. The choice of “Catfish” directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman was a good one, possibly because they had something to prove moving from questionably fake documentary into definitely fake documentary filmmaking. They have respect for the story and the process.
The effects are ramped up slightly from the first couple films, and they only break down a couple times with obvious digital trickery. Like the other movies, the ghostly moments are most effective when achieved with creepy imagery or practical effects. Fortunately, I only saw one digital effect that really looked goofy, and the rest of the scares were genuine.
As the film plays out, the first 75 minutes are rather rote. It’s the same story, only 20 years prior. The audience will whisper and scream at the predictable and sometimes pedantic jump-scares. There’s the silly “I’ve got to film this!” mentality throughout the movie, but that’s somewhat necessary as we’ve seen in everything dating back to “The Blair Witch Project.”
But where the film really hits home is with the last ten minutes. Where the second movie had a neat ending, plot-wise, it felt rather flat. However, this movie packs a real punch at the end, not just because of the events happening on screen but also for the subtext under them. It takes a somewhat standard sequel and makes it fresh again.
Still, the effectiveness of this movie will depend on your reaction to the other ones. If you rolled your eyes at the first two films, you won’t like the third installment. But if you were scared before, you’ll wet your pants during this one.
Of course, I can’t help but wonder where “Paranormal Activity 4” will go, following the prequel suit. Maybe in the 1970s on Super 8? I could get into that.