Paranormal Activity 3 Review

Paranormal Activity 3
Directed by: Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
Written by: Christopher B. Landon
Starring: Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown, Christopher Nicholas Smith, Lauren Bittner

Reigning king of the “Gotcha!” moment, Paranormal Activity is back – and though the premise may have worn thin, (how many compulsive videographers can one extended family have?) its minimalist scare tactics are as effective as ever. Scream for scream, the theater experience is without rival; hushed gasps, nervous tittering, and shrieks of surprise are empirical evidence of the films’ effectiveness. Hence the backlash when Paranormal Activity hit home video: these movies cater to a crowd.

A prequel of sorts, Paranormal Activity 3 rewinds the franchise to 1988, illuminating the origins of the Presence that ran amok in parts one and two. Helmed by Catfish directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the flick treads familiar territory, but keeps the audience on its toes. One of the major criticisms leveled against Oren Peli’s original was its predictable cycle of daytime exposition and midnight scares. Rinse and repeat.

Screenwriter Christopher B. Landon, who also wrote the underwhelming Paranormal Activity 2, does a better job this time of pitching the odd changeup. With an omnipresent atmosphere of unease, no moment feels entirely safe. And it goes without saying that the freaky stuff is much more explicitly freaky. Rest assured the Rey family doesn’t own a pool, let alone a cleaning robot.

Probably the single most brilliant technical addition to the Paranormal Activity repertoire is the oscillating camera. Panning ominously between kitchen and living room, the simple mechanic works like a suspense machine. Joost and Schulman certainly get their money’s worth out of the gimmick, milking it for some of their whitest white-knuckle moments. Fashioned from a tabletop fan, the device is a perfect metaphor for the franchise itself: cheap, homemade, effective.

But for ingenuity and inventiveness, the original is still tops. For all its merciless suspense, Paranormal Activity 3 falls back on a few too many false alarms (“Gotcha!”) and bad payoffs, and offers no real innovations in imagery. From Poltergeist to The Exorcist, it’s easy to tell where the directors pulled inspiration, almost copy-and-pasting classic moments into the found footage aesthetic.

Then again, anyone expecting real innovation from the third Paranormal Activity film is barking up the wrong tree. Part of the fun is how loosely defined the abilities of the otherworldly antagonist are. It possesses, communicates, and manipulates. But wait, there’s more! Paranormal Activity 3 plays like a grab bag of horror ideas and iconography. Like any grab bag, not everything inside is interesting.

For one, handheld footage plays a more prominent role than ever, which strains the believability of some key sequences. Then there’s hokey filler like the “Bloody Mary” urban legend, which squarely fills the vacancy left by the Ouija board on the Paranormal Activity blueprint. And who could forget Randy (Dustin Ingram) and his transparent, annoying attempts at comic relief?

Paranormal Activity 3 doesn’t reinvent the franchise. It’s not even the best Paranormal Activity film. It doesn’t need to be. Its aim is to refine the series’ mechanics and reinvigorate audience interest, and it succeeds. So what’s next? Likely what keeps Paramount executives up at night is how to squeeze the supernatural saga for every penny it’s worth. Long live the reigning king of “Gotcha!” – Colin

SCORE: 3 stars

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  • Jason Cartagena

    Great review Colin but I believe it is the best. Except the the crap ending, but the original had a crap ending as well. But it goes without saying, Blair Witch rules them all.

  • milath

    Honestly just judging from the previews and now reviews, this sounds about as far from the first one as it can get.

    The first was a slow burn that almost worked. It didn’t rely on ‘boo’ scares or loud sound effect/music cues to scare. It was more a feeling of foreboding over anything.

    This just looks like average horror movie fare that you can see a ton of on Netflix…

    Though one can’t say it doesn’t know the audience for these things picks up big-time around Halloween. It’ll do great I’m sure, since there are no other horror movies to watch in theaters at the moment, which is perplexing to me… But that’s another story.

    Prepare for PA4 next year. It’s the new Saw franchise.

    PS. I still think those ‘directors’ are douches.

  • Steven S

    Jason, which version of the first one did you see? The revamped Spielberg cinema version when she attacks the camera of the DVD version? The latter was far better, although I understand why the change was made for the cinema.

    The second was surprisingly good, so I hope this one continues in the same vein. But please, let’s leave it alone now, REC is being pushed into 3 & 4 and when the quality falls, so does the affection for the originals.

  • PeeturDCF

    For some reason, Tokyo Night is hard to find. Wasn’t it not released a while ago in the UK? That was the third film before the ‘real’ third part came out. HMV does not have it in stock at all.

  • PlanBFromOuterSpace

    It was interesting to see how much of the stuff in the trailer wasn’t in the film at all. While it might seem like a little bit of a cheat, it’s good to know that when the Bloody Mary business starts out that it’s going to play out in a completely different way, rather than leave you with the “Well duh, I saw this in the trailer already” feeling.

    The question I kept asking myself was “Why didn’t he ever turn the camera to face the cubby hole?”. I mean, from a filmmaking perspective, I totally know why we never see it, but when the character is watching the tapes and everything seems to be happening from THAT direction…

  • Nick

    I really don’t know how people like this so much. The first one was a fun watch, the second goes downhill and this hits rock bottom. I can’t say that I was ever legitimately scared in this or that I saw anything original. While the oscillating fan was an interesting idea, it was way over used and got old really quick.

  • Steven

    Saw Paranormal Activity 3 with group of friends and thought it was an excellent horror film probably the best out of the series so far and it’s a testement to how the filmmakers are handling these things. We left wanting a part 4. Saw it with a packed house after we went to several theatres that were sold out and the audience loved it. People were cluttering up the hallways talking about how much they liked it. This film expanded on the mythology behind the series and somehow managed to make it even creepier and scarier. I understand that people don’t like the hand held camera thing but these films have been mostly static camera’s mounted on walls or tripods and when they are used for handheld shots it never detracts from the story or makes you dizzy or anything like that. And the really amazing thing is there wasn’t an ounce of blood spilt. The filmmakers managed to actually make a scary movie without all the gore and torture porn shit. These films aren’t Saw or Final Destination they are actually really good and I can’t wait to see more. If you enjoy horror films go check this out the real camera stuff will not take away from the experience.

  • PeeturDCF

    Well, it seems Tokyo Night has yet to be released on DVD, yet I did read up on it being released in March, 2011. The only copy I’ve seen is on eBay right now. It is in German, though, and with no English subs, no one would understand a word of it. I guess it could still be released alongside PA3.