[Review] FF ’11: Second Thoughts on ‘Paranormal Activity 3′

After a mind-blowing secret screening this past Sunday (a title the entire theatre had to swear not to mention on Twitter, FB, or out loud), everyone at Fantastic Fest was theorizing out the wazoo as to what the second one would be. Paramount was rumored to be the studio, which opened the flood gates and had attendees guessing Hugo, MI:4, Tintin or Paranormal Activity 3, with the latter proving to be correct.

Earlier, we posted Corey Mitchell’s positive review and now we have a second by BD stringer Brad McHargue, who also dug the film. Read past the break for his thoughts on the third entry in the franchise, which he said “[keeps] the series fresh and engaging.”


Full disclosure: I saw an incomplete cut of the film. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman said they mostly had sound issues to complete, but unless they add or change whole scenes, I saw what can essentially be considered a final product.

After Paranormal Activity 2 was released, it was clear a formula had been established. The scares were inconsistent, generally weak, and did little to emulate the originality and fear seen in the original. When the third movie was announced, most rolled their eyes and were upset by the fact that the studio was now simply trying to bleed money off what should have been a single film. It doesn’t matter how unoriginal it is; it’ll still find an audience because people thought the first one was terrifying.

Paranormal Activity 3 opens shortly before the events of Part 2. Katie Featherston brings over several boxes of old VHS tapes to store them at her sister Kristi’s place, all of which vanish after a “robbery.” The film then switches perspectives to 1988, where Dennis, the girls’ mother’s boyfriend, sets up cameras around the house to the strange events that began happening after the arrival of Kristi’s imaginary friend, Toby.

Paranormal Activity 3 is horribly formulaic and does little to distinguish itself from the first two entries in terms of presentation. Recalling the night-by-night set-up of the previous films (complete with droning sound cues to warn the listener that something is about to happen), we’re forced to suspend disbelief from the get-go in order to tolerate the gaping holes in logic and common sense that pervade it. A scare sequence in the bedroom of Katie and Kristi goes completely unmentioned and uninvestigated by their parents, and it’s maddening to think that directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (of Catfish fame) felt this was an acceptable way advance the story. The characters in Paranormal Activity exist in a world where common sense is conspicuously lacking. Why the hell are they always carrying around a camera? Put the damned thing down.

The story itself leaves little to be desired, but the film has entered a world where the “why” is more or less incidental when compared to the “what.” Little is revealed until the intentionally ambiguous (yet incredibly creepy) ending, and although it manages to more or less stay true to the facts presented in the first film regarding the girls’ past, you’re left with some unanswered questions. The viewer is left to fill in the blanks to try and piece together the “why.” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but given the mythology they’ve been trying to establish for the past two films, we’ve come to expect a little bit more.

Despite this, Paranormal Activity 3 manages to keep the series fresh by not only bringing the scares on hard and fast, but by deviating from standard “doors opening and closing” tactics that plagued the first one, as well as remaining consistent with its attempts to frighten the viewer, which the second film failed to do. Joost and Schulman jump right into things with a subtle scare reminiscent of the baby powder scene in the first film – which I thought to be the scariest part of this film. From thereon out, they keep things coming at a relentless pace with a mixture of standard scares and mischief – a door opening and closing, phantom footsteps, the standard fare – to those that bring a heavily heightened sense of physical danger. The demon isn’t kidding around this time, and the results are terrifying.

One of the standout additions of the film – one that helps to distinguish the film from the first two – is the use of a rotating camera. Made possible by mounting it on a disassembled oscillating fan, the constant surveying of the kitchen and living room allows Joost and Schulman to play with space and sound in a very creative way. Something will appear in the living room, and as the camera turns toward the kitchen, you’re on the edge of your seat wondering if it’s still going to be there when it returns. It’s kind of a cheap scare, but it’s incredibly effective.

Much like the Saw series, the existence of Paranormal Activity 3 is nothing more than a money grab. There’s not much that can be done with the story to keep it original enough to be satisfying, but Joost and Schulman manage to toss in enough clever scares and a decidedly creepy plot point to keep the series fresh and frightening. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s damn entertaining.

3.5/5 skulls