“The last 15 minutes will mess you up for life” . . . or so the TV spot claims. I’d been waiting for Paranormal Activity 3 since I first got wind of it several months back. The trailers were finally released and some of the scenes looked pretty good, but when I saw the movie the biggest shock was that the majority of the scenes from the trailers weren’t even there! I don’t know if they got cut, or were just intended to be used for advertising, but if you were hoping to see kids jumping from the tops of staircases and people getting thrashed non-stop by invisible forces, prepare to be disappointed.
Some parts were probably left out for the better—the paranormal investigator, for example. We’ve seen enough of that horror cliché in other movies. And to be perfectly honest, I was glad they cut some of the thrashing scenes. Too much of that and it gets gimmicky. But there were some scenes that I was really looking forward to seeing, like the “knocking game” and the Bloody Mary ritual. In the film’s defense, the Bloody Mary scene was there, just not exactly as it was in the trailer, and as it turns out, the theatrical version ended up being the better of the two. There was also a brief shot in the previews of a house engulfed in flames. You may remember references to “the fire” in the previous films, so I figured we’d finally be given an explanation. Nope. “The fire” remains a mystery.
The story takes place over roughly a two-week period in 1988 and centralizes on the childhood haunting of sisters Katie and Kristi. What begins as seemingly harmless interactions with an imaginary friend soon escalates into a series of increasingly disturbing and violent encounters.
The movie is filmed similarly to its predecessors, using handheld cameras and tripods. But if you think watching footage resembling a security camera is boring, think again. Some cool creativity was employed that allowed a stationary camera to shoot both the foyer and kitchen by being mounted on an oscillating fan. It then pans eerily back and forth—empty kitchen . . . empty foyer . . . empty kitchen . . . not-so-empty foyer. That element was really well done and for me was one of the stand-out suspense builders.
As far as the acting goes, on the whole it was tolerable for a film that makes heavy use of improvisation. Surprisingly, the scenes that were the most intense (which I would have thought to be the most difficult) had the best acting. Apparently, what’s not so easy is realistically depicting natural, casual conversation. I remember there being one character in PA 2 whose acting bothered me throughout the entire film. Thankfully, this movie had no such characters.
I was particularly curious as to whether the writers would be able to work this film into the story as well as they did with PA 2, because although I wasn’t impressed with the fright level of the second movie, I thought it was fantastically tied into the first, especially considering that they weren’t written at the same time. Naturally, I was doubtful of their abilities to demonstrate similar writing prowess again, but sure enough, like a puzzle piece, they snapped this movie into place as smoothly as the last one. I did notice a little plot hiccup regarding mentions of the mother in the second movie, but I found it to be a very minor issue.
Of course, this movie comes complete with a few typical horror situations like skeptic vs. believer, as well as conflicts that could easily have been solved with a simple “why doesn’t he just show her the tape!” But at least it was refreshing to see a role reversal of the common skeptical male and credulous female.
I tend to judge scary movies quite harshly. While scenes designed to make you jump and scream can be fun, especially in a pitch black theatre full of people, I find such tactics to be cheap when overused. A jump scene comes and goes very quickly, and the sense of fear isn’t a lasting one. I prefer that a movie be scary as a result of the atmosphere, the events, the story. If you’re still creeped out when you leave the theatre, then the filmmakers have done a decent job. In Paranormal Activity 3 there were a lot of make-you-jump scenes, but at least they were complemented by a story that had a moderate fear factor.
I don’t think the Paranormal Activity franchise will ever really scare people who need a corporeal being—whether a monster, alien, or psychotic killer—on which to project their fear. The strength of this style of film lies with the invisibility of the villain. It causes the viewers’ imaginations to run wild which, for many people (myself included), is usually more frightening than anything that can be depicted with special effects and makeup. That said, keeping the spooky entity hidden doesn’t automatically guarantee a successful fright. Paranormal Activity 3 certainly had some creepy parts, but came far from messing me up for life.