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.