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Paranormal Activity 3

October 23, 2011
Paranormal Activity 3

There’s a school of thought that holds that the best scares come from lulling the audience into a false sense of security before hitting them with something unexpected. If this is true then Oren Peli and the other makers of Paranormal Activity 3 are truly experts, since they’ve now drawn the setup out through three full feature-length films, and despite all assurances to the contrary we’re still waiting to see anything much happen. I only even bothered this one because the trailer promised an actual payoff; not only was I disappointed, but half of the trailer — the promising half — never even made it into the completed movie.

Okay, I should walk some of that back a bit. Stuff does happen this time, but it’s still not very much and the ending is yet another damp squib. We also do learn more about the history of Katie and Kristi, the haunted women from the first two installments, as this movie is set in 1988 when they were children. This pattern of moving continually backwards in time for subsequent releases does have a bright spot: since the camcorder as such was only released in 1982, it’s going to be hard for any more of these things to be made.

Paranormal Activity 3, like its two predecessors, is good at one thing, and that is saying “boo”. That’s really all it amounts to. Be really quiet and dim, making the audience look and listen closely, then jump out unexpectedly and make a loud noise to get them to jump. It’s the cheapest kind of thrill possible. But as I said they’re good at it, and there are even plenty of gotcha moments when they scare us with something perfectly mundane.

But when it really counts, the scares only last a moment. Even in the climactic sequence where almost everything that happens actually happens, we’re built up and up and up and then let off with nothing. On top of which, there’s a current-day — well, 2005 — framing story that completely vanishes after the first few minutes, and which is unresolved at the end. Or maybe those were clips from the first couple movies that tie us in to refer back to the past? I don’t know because I fundamentally do not care about anyone or anything in the whole Paranormal Activity series, and I haven’t been given any reason to.

This delves into the truly geeky, but it shows how stultifying I found the movie. At one point the girls’ mother’s boyfriend, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) rigs one of the cameras he uses to shoot wedding videos to the body of an oscillating fan so he can monitor two rooms at once, and also so the filmmakers can get footage moving in and out of frame for cheap tension. In some sequences, it moves back and forth on a 32-second cycle, while in others it moves on a 36-second cycle. And when we cut away and return, even if the fan is still on the same cycle length, the timers never line up right. If this seems insanely picky I say it’s the movie that drove me insane with boredom.

There are two things that are praiseworthy about Paranormal Activity 3, though they hardly make up for its deep structural flaws. The first is the meticulous attention to detail, other than the aforementioned timers. The camera technology and cinematography is vintage, as is Dennis’ editing equipment. The architecture, the furniture and furnishings, and the clothes are all perfect. Some of the cultural references made by the characters are a bit off, but overall they did a great job of reproducing 1988.

The other is the girls’ acting. Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown as Katie and Kristi, respectively, are excellent, especially for their ages. There’s nothing creepier in any horror movie, good or bad, than little kids, especially girls. And their performances were the best part of an exceedingly bad horror movie.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: pass.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. October 23, 2011 19:53

    Definitely better than the second one and even though it’s a little bit of the same thing around again, it still is totally freaky and has so many chilling moments that will stay in your mind forever. Good review. Check out mine when you can.

  2. October 25, 2011 15:33

    Towards the end of the movie, in the children’s room, a doll falls off of the table and exposes a monitor of some sorts that wasn’t present in other scenes of that room. An image appeared on it and remained through “the action.”

    I was wondering if anyone caught that and could tell me what they felt appeared on that monitor? Was it the ouija board planchette that was used in the first two movies?

  3. October 25, 2011 15:45

    Nicholas: it seemed pretty clear to me it was the same symbol Dennis mentioned finding in the old book and drawn on the ceiling of the crawl-space in the girls’ room, a circle inscribed in a triangle.

    Now, if the planchette had the same form that could have been an intentional reference, either backwards or forwards. But if using the planchette back then was intentionally laying groundwork for the present — groundwork that only deep and careful attention could recognize — then there’s just too little story for me to be at all interested in digging it up.

  4. October 25, 2011 16:31

    John: Thanks for the fast response. It did appear to me as resembling that symbol, but at the same time, I felt I clearly saw the rounded bottom of the planchette which was used in both of the first two movies, as well as that planchettes brass parts that hold its “feet” in position.

    Perhaps it was an image of the planchette, anamorphically “stretched” into a proportion that filled that displays screen. Maybe it was an “in-between” hybrid image of BOTH the planchette which was to be used in the future and that symbol?

    After all, there is a resemblance between the two in general form. I felt that it could be an intentional reference to the “future” use of the ouija board & planchette in the other movies.

    By the way, that “monitor” itself has piqued my curiosity about this detail from Paranormal Activity 3. It resembled a “flat screen” of some sort, which just weren’t readily available back in 1988. It’s interesting how it only appeared in that scene. The intensity of that image appeared to brighten during the “paranormal activity” of that scene…

    By the way, I’m particularly curious as I had actually personally made the planchette which was used in the first two movies. Understandably, I looked forward to seeing if there was a ouija board scene in the third movie.

    You can imagine my excitement when I discovered that my planchette had been chosen for use in the other Paranormal Activity movies. There wasn’t a ouija board scene with this third movie, but that image struck me as bearing a resemblance to my planchette, though I can’t yet say for certain. I felt too that it could be an intentional reference to “future” events. 🙂

    Perhaps I’ll go and see it again tonight. No. Scratch that. I think instead I’ll wait for an early matinee showing. The crowd sure was paranormally “vocal” during the screening of this film. lol 😉

  5. October 25, 2011 17:05

    “By the way, that ‘monitor’ itself has piqued my curiosity about this detail from Paranormal Activity 3. It resembled a ‘flat screen’ of some sort, which just weren’t readily available back in 1988.”

    To be honest, I thought it was a Lite-Brite.

  6. October 25, 2011 17:27

    I never even considered that. It being a lite-brite would make a LOT more sense, for that era. I recall one of the children in that scene saying that “Toby is here” right after the doll fell and exposed it.

    I’ll pay close attention when I see it again and report back. I’m pretty certain though that its intensity did brighten during that scene.

    Do you recall if they showed that symbol when a reference was made to it in whatever book he had? My recollection is that it was only shown in the closet, but just mentioned as being in the book when he discusses his research.

  7. October 25, 2011 17:38

    I think I remember him pointing it out in the book saying “see, this is the same symbol as I found on the ceiling”. But I suppose he might just have said that without actually showing it.

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