Thursday, February 9, 2012

Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) All In The Family

I know, I'm sure some reviewer has made that joke-reference somewhere, but hey.

In 2007, Paranormal Activity - in its own way - became the Blair Witch Project of the modern era:  a shoestring-budget picture that became a cash cow.  2010 brought the sequel, Paranormal Activity 2, and it turned out to be very entertaining as well as hinting as a deeper story.  Well, that deeper story came along in 2011's Paranormal Activity 3, and I must say, it was pretty intriguing.

With direction from Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, and written by Christopher Landon, the film begins with a prologue.  Consistent with the semi-parallel storytelling from the first sequel, we're treated to sisters Katie and Kristi (Katie Featherstone and Sprague Grayden reprising their roles) sometime before the craziness really kicks in during the first film.  Katie asks Kristi to store some old stuff, including some old video tapes.  When the house is messed up in the second film, that's when those tapes disappear.  That's when we're taken to the past via tapes from 1988.  Katie and Kristi are little girls, enjoying life with their mother, Julie, and her boyfriend, Dennis, a wedding videographer...convenient, I know.  After an earthquake occurs on-camera (Julie and Dennis were trying to make a "special" tape), Dennis sees a startling image and excitedly begins trying to capture it again.  He sets up his cameras all over the house and reviews the footage the next day.  In one segment, he sees Kristi whispering to someone off-screen where no one should be.  Later, he finds out that she was talking to an imaginary friend, Toby.  Although, Kristi swears he's not imaginary.  In this movie, that's a pretty glaring red flag.

More cameras (the oscillating fan camera is pretty sweet) and more strange things afoot as evidence makes itself pretty known.  The "ghost under the sheet"?  Yeah, you'll know what I'm talking about.  Dennis continues his investigation, and thanks to some "choppy" editing, we never really know the full story of the house and where it sits.  After a terrifying incident with the closet, he discovers an odd symbol drawn inside.  He connects it to an ancient witches' coven that once occupied the area, and he doesn't like the proximity to the girls he thinks of as daughters.  Julie is still skeptical, even when seeing some of the weird stuff herself.  It's when she has a...shall we moment, that she insists they leave and head for her mother's.

They do just that, but Dennis doesn't stop filming.  Good thing, because the camera starts catching little things, like Kristi's seemingly innocent "preparation."  At night, awakened by the sound of arriving cars, Dennis follows Julie into the darkened house.  Along the way, he discovers truths that he would shortly wish he hadn't discovered.  Getting out of the house with his daughters is the priority, but well, it's not a spoiler to say that doesn't happen.  Things that occur in the first two films make sense by the end, and it all comes together if you've paid attention to the clues.

I've always been somewhat lukewarm to the hype that Paranormal Activity but that's the fault of the films.  The more I think about them, the more I do realize their pure entertainment appeal.  It's a simple formula:  cameras set up, things escalate, some truths are uncovered, things get worse, climactic incident, silent denouement.  But sometimes, simplicity is just what's needed.  If the movies strayed too much from the norm, from what works, it would seem to convoluted or even pandering.  I do like the movies, individually and as a trilogy.  I like that the scares are obviously coming - that camera's going to show something and you know it.  I really like the ambient music that slowly creeps into a scene, indicating something's about to happen, but you just don't know when or what it will be.

It's just good fun.  Sometimes that's good enough.

So, hey, until the next time - I do hear there's another sequel in the works - enjoy the trailer, even if it does show a lot of things that don't appear in the theatrical release:


  1. This is an occasion where I must slightly disagree. I felt that although the formula was there, this installment was weaker than the sequel. Too bad because I thought the '80s aspect would really turn this into a truly creepy old school shocker. The main deterrent for me was actually one of the positives that you pointed out. The fact that we know the scares are coming...the question was how many turns would the oscillating camera make before the scare happened? lol

  2. I definitely see your point, and I'm usually one to lean towards pure unpredictability. For some reason, I seem to enjoy the "here it comes" aspect of this series. The fan-cam was pretty predictable, but I did enjoy it. Now, I wonder what they will come up with for the fourth movie. Not too many roads they can take.

    Hey, drinking game - one shot for every turn the fan takes before something happens!