|PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3
If you need to sleep with the hall light on after seeing this movie, it’s okay. Nobody will judge you. There are more moments of genuine terror in Paranormal Activity 3 than there are in virtually every other horror film in recent memory, including its predecessors.
The film takes place in 1988, 16 years before the first two films take place, with Katie (the star of the first film) and Kristi (the star of the second film) as little girls. Young Kristi (played by the adorable Jessica Tyler Brown) has an imaginary friend (imaginary…right) named Toby. Toby is playful at first, but it is clear that Kristi does not like talking about him to anyone because she might, “Get into trouble”.
Christopher Nicholas Smith does a terrific job playing Kristi and Katie’s likeable stepfather Dennis. Since Dennis is a wedding videographer (a great plot device, since it takes place before everyone and their grandmother owned a video camera), he has all of the video equipment that is needed to make the film play like the first two.
During a botched attempt to film himself having sex with his wife Julie (Lauren Bittner), they are interrupted by an earthquake. This is where the movie really begins, as the dust that falls from the ceiling lands on an invisible presence, creating the shape of a person. Dennis notices this when looking at the footage the next day, and the stage for terror is set.
One of the things that the Paranormal Activity films are so good at doing is setting the characters up as normal, everyday people that you would be friends with. The third installment is no exception. They are funny, engaging, and normal almost to the point that you forget that this is a horror movie. This is why the horror works, because we put ourselves in their shoes. Again, we have obviously already seen this in the first two movies, but that is not to take away from how well it is done in this one.
Much of the credit for how well Paranormal Activity 3 turned out goes to its new directors, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Joost and Schulman, who wrote and directed the 2010 controversial “wait a second, was that real?” documentary Catfish, show that they have what it takes to deliver sustained tension, perfectly-timed comedy, and absolute horror.
One brilliant convention that they use in the film is the use of an oscillating fan. Again, since the movie takes place in 1988, some of today’s video technologies that we take for granted simply did not exist back then. So in the film, Dennis takes apart Julie’s fan, and turns the oscillating function into a panoramic, back-and-forth view from one side of the living room to the opposite end of the kitchen. A few of the shots in these sequences are some of the tensest shots in the film, as the slow panning from one end to the other places us in the environment. One of these shots involving a bed sheet is particularly terrifying.
That is the main difference between this film and so many other horror films these days. Many of them revolve around a dozen or so jump-out-of-your-seat moments, brought about by a loud noise. While there are definitely a few of those in this movie, the real tension comes in the scenes that nothing happens at all. There are scenes that last for five minutes, and that nothing even happens, that will have you at the edge of your seat muttering to yourself that this is only a movie.
One complaint that has been going around is that virtually nothing from any of the trailers actually makes it into the final cut of the film. While this is true (i.e. the now almost iconic “Bloody Mary” scene from the original teaser), does it really matter? The scariest moments in this film simply would not be scary in a two and a half minute trailer. It is almost commendable, actually. There were so many people who watched the first movie and said, “I already knew the ending. It was in all the trailers!” Well, here you go, people. A movie that’s ending, as well as its scariest scenes, are not spoiled before you’ve even seen the movie. And just to whet your appetite, there is a “Bloody Mary” scene in the movie that is actually scarier than the one in the teaser.
So, even though Paranormal Activity 3 is not exactly groundbreaking, as we’ve already seen many of the conventions in the film used in the original and the first sequel (and, to give credit where credit is due, in The Blair Witch Project more than a decade ago), it still delivers. It might be more of the same, but when the same is as scary as this, then you will have nothing to complain about. Nothing, aside from the fact that after seeing it, you might need to replace the batteries in that nightlight you haven’t used since you were eleven.
Movie Review by Mike Danner