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Paranormal Activity 3 (A PopEntertainment.com Movie Review)

Paranormal Activity 3


Starring Lauren Bittner, Christopher Nicholas Smith, Jessica Tyler Brown, Chloe Csengery, Sprague Grayden and Katie Featherston.

Screenplay by Christopher B. Landon.

Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 93 minutes. Rated R.

The Paranormal Activity series is becoming the Harold Pinter’s Betrayal of the horror midnight movie genre (or the Christopher Nolan’s Memento, for those to whom that reference is too obscure) – it starts at the end and then keeps moving backwards. Paranormal Activity 3 is a prequel to Paranormal Activity 2, which in turn was a prequel to the original Paranormal Activity. If they keep making movies, eventually we’ll be back to Paranormal Activity 11: Gettysburg or Paranormal Activity 47: The Spanish Inquisition. Of course, they’ll have to figure out a way to work camcorders into the stories.

However, while the filmmakers (and there have been three different directors in the three films in the series) keep trying to come up with new ways to illuminate the back-story of the original Paranormal film, the audience wonders: why bother? The first film was a lean, mean piece of DIY filmmaking that captured a zeitgeist in the audience because it was so unique. If you keep using the same technique on other stories, you lose everything that made the first film special, and at the same time cheapen the accomplishments of the original. 

There was no reason to make these prequels except for the money. Of course, that is the defining motivation for modern Hollywood, so here they are. The original Paranormal Activity was a stunning success, particularly for such a low-budget film. It was the kind of once-a-decade indie smash that hadn’t been seen since the extremely similar Blair Witch Project in 1999 (not that there weren’t tons of other similarly hand-held pseudo-documentary fright films made in between.). 

However, even the money may not be a good enough excuse for Paranormal 3. The second film was a distinct disappointment, not only in critical acclaim but also in box office receipts. Is anyone really waiting around for another go around with the demons? And does dropping in an old urban legend that has been a staple of fright films for years add anything to the mix?

This urban legend is that of Bloody Mary. For generations, kids have scared each other by claiming if you say her name in the dark in front of the bathroom mirror three times; the ghost of Bloody Mary will appear. (My nephew, who was six at the time, was freaked out by the story when he heard it in school just a few years ago, so the story is still going strong.) 

Truth to be told, while they never quite spell it out, it appears that Bloody Mary is a bit of a red herring in Paranormal Activity 3. The family is already being haunted by an entity at the point that the myth is brought up. After she is called for, it still appears to be the same entity coming after them. 

So if Paranormal Activity 3 does not seem to bring Bloody Mary to the party, what new stuff do they bring to the table?

Well, they brought hip new filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman in to run things. Joost and Schulman had previously helmed the buzzworthy documentary Catfish (though quite a few people felt that Catfish was no more real than the Paranormal Activity films). Joost and Schulman have a feel for this kind of filmmaking, however like the last chapter, attempts to broaden the scope of the series work at cross-purposes with the lo-tech credo behind the series. 

As we pointed out in our review of Paranormal Activity 2, the natural tendency of horror sequels is to make the scares bigger and badder – a technique which totally flies in the face of the lo-tech subtle scares and suspense that were stock-in-trade of the original. By making the stunts bigger, they are somehow divorcing themselves from what made the first film so powerful in the first place.

Paranormal 3 again looks at Katie and Kristi, the sisters that were the focus of the first two chapters. Only this time, we go back to 1988 and show them as little girls, dealing with the supernatural manifestations which they amazingly had mostly forgotten as adults. (Katie Featherston, the breakout star of the first film, finds her role cut down to a few short scenes in the first few minutes.)

This 1988 setting creates certain problems right off the bat. First of all, video cameras were not all that common back then. They were expensive, big, bulky and difficult to maneuver with. They were also not widescreen, though all the footage here is in that dimension. 

The filmmakers sort of explain away the problem by suggesting that the girls’ step-father was a wedding videographer. Which brings up many additional questions, such as how did a videographer afford that huge gorgeous house in suburban San Diego? Or was there even enough of a market for wedding videos in 1988 that someone could make a living at just that? 

Step-dad was also one of those guys who was always walking everywhere with a camera in front of him – which is rare enough now, but pretty unheard of back then. Which brings up further questions: how could he afford three or four video cameras back then (one for his room, one for the girls’ room, one for the living room/kitchen and one to walk around with)? If you have at least three cameras running 24/7, how are you ever going to watch all that footage? Also, if you are going to make a sex tape with your wife, wouldn’t you keep that away from the normal family videos so your daughters wouldn’t stumble upon it years later, even if it was interrupted by an earthquake and an apparent supernatural phenomenon? Or at least cut out all the foreplay?

If you’ve seen the other films you know where things go from there. Things start to go bump in the night. Mysterious movements and drawings appear. A little girl starts talking to an imaginary friend – but is he really imaginary? The parents and their small children become more and more frazzled as the paranormal occurrences become more blatant and more violent. Everything finally comes to a head as the supernatural phenomenon explodes, wreaking havoc on the family. There are also hints of yet another prequel, this one involving Grandma.

Honestly, Paranormal Activity 3 is definitely scarier than the second installment. Still, there is no real reason for it to exist other than to try to drain a few extra bucks out of an idea whose time has passed. Only the original Paranormal Activity is necessary viewing. However, if you are into this kind of thing, Paranormal Activity 3 does have enough real chills to make it worthy of a viewing.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: January 14, 2012.


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