Three years in, the Saw franchise is finally dead, its slayer - the simpler, cheaper and much scarier Paranormal Activity series - stronger than ever. Paranormal Activity 3 is another prequel that sets the story in the 1980's, providing video evidence of the activity that occurred when the sisters portrayed in the first two movies were just children. The result is another legitimately freaky entry, one that introduces a few new tricks to keep audiences on their toes.
It's a testament to the discipline of the filmmakers, producers and Paramount Pictures that three movies in, the Paranormal Activity movies have stuck with what works: simple presentation, low production costs and frightening encounters with a very nasty invisible friend. There is not a whole lot that distinguishes the three movies from one another in terms of tone, style and gimmicks, an approach that typically only works in the horror genre. It worked for the Saw movies and it works here, but there's one big difference...
After two other movies, Paranormal Activity 3 is still incredibly scary.
The film has been criticized for stretching the realm of reality - in the 80's, would a wedding videographer hook up cameras all over his home to record suspicious activity occurring in his home? - but in the scheme of horror movies, it's such a trivial complaint it's moot. The only thing that really matters: do you find these movies scary or not?
There's a small contingent of people who have never found the Paranormal Activity movies scary and who dismiss them outright. That's fine, but for the rest of us, Paranormal Activity 3, like its predecessors, taps into a core, visceral fear, of the night, of shadows, of things that go bump in the night.
With Paranormal Activity 3, the reigns were passed to Catfish directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman; the two maintain many of the same tactics from the previous movies while introducing an extremely simple, rudimentary but extremely effective technique: a rotating camera. With every slow revolution, the chance of something popping up and scaring the crap out of you increases tenfold. And as with every good horror movie, it's less about the scares than the expectation of scares. The rotating camera delivers many of the film's most effective, unique scares.
Some people have said Paranormal Activity 3 is the scariest of the three. That's a stretch, if only for the fact that its scares mirror those seen in the first two films. While still effective, you know what to expect just a little more: people are going to be pulled out of their beds, loud sounds are going to occur somewhere off screen, et cetera.
The movie isn't without its flaws. Once again, the male (Christopher Nicholas Smith) is aggressively dumb at times, provoking the demon while failing to enunciate what he sees to his significant other (Lauren Bittner). There's one scene where he's just witnessed a truly horrifying thing on tape - something that would cause any normal person to flee the vicinity immediately - and yet when he tries to talk to his live-in girlfriend about it, he fails miserably. Just show her the damn tape! It's moments like these that are more bothersome than anything else, that don't pass the logic sensor we all, or most of us, have in our heads.
Nevertheless, Paranormal Activity 3 maintains a consistent level of terror. It also gets to the frights faster. Thankfully, young actresses Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown turn in good performances, which keep the creepy film grounded. One has to imagine that the next Paranormal Activity - and there will be another one, and probably another after that - will move forward instead of back, following the girls as they age. While the franchise may already be struggling to offer something new, it's already giving us something better: consistent scares. And that's something few horror franchises have ever been able to deliver.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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