Movie Review: Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)


The Baby That Goes Bump in the Night

A Film Review of Paranormal Activity 3

By: Lawrence Napoli



picThe Paranormal Activity franchise is my favorite contemporary horror collection because it represents a series of films that aren’t built upon cheap scares, loud noises, shock value and high body counts.  These films are all about the subtle build up of suspense when the eerily realistic and physically impossible occurs in the most casual of environments.  Indeed, the Blair Witch/home movie style of telling this type of story continues to show an ability to generate a uniquely fearful experience when supremely planned and executed special effects are interweaved into the celluloid.  These films, however, remain disciplined in not over saturating the frame with frightening imagery and horrific effects so as to allow the anticipation of fear to be the engine for the narrative, dialogue and overall pace.  After the events of the first two Paranormal Activities, I was very excited to see where the filmmakers would take the audience and whose perspective would be featured.  Sadly, this film is yet another prequel of sorts in that it explores the childhood of the fatefully haunted sisters at a more vulnerable age.  Still, this film enhances the girls’ back story in addition to giving fans of the series a deeper appreciation and understanding of the first two films.  By the end of Paranormal Activity 3 the viewer will be satisfied, but instantly demand a progression of the cliffhanger that is witnessed at the end of the 2nd film.  The third film firmly identifies all of the antagonists, but I now feel the need for a holy defense against the established evil, and I will elaborate on this sentiment at the conclusion of this review.

As I previously mentioned, I was disappointed that this film reaches further into the mythos of the established characters, but writers Christopher B. Landon and Oren Peli found a way to tell a creepy story that retains this series’ formulaic presentation while introducing the audience to a new perspective on the terror of Katie and Kristi.  They manage to do all this while maintaining absolute continuity with the novice investigations that occurred during the previous installments, which confirms several suspicions and introduces new ones.  I suspect the reasoning behind exploring the past goes hand in hand with the overall strategy behind this franchise of spoon feeding imagery and information to the audience as minutely as possible in order to maximize the imagination of the individual viewer.  Once again, the tale wreaks havoc on the audience’s sense of comfort by having all manner terror occur within the all too familiar home environment, and despite the similar aesthetics among every house in California that boasts such paranormal activity, rest assured, the audience will be subjected to new chills that continues to add layers of depth to the story.  The ability to write scenes that show a story unfold (as opposed to telling through dialogue) is extremely difficult in the apparently dried up literary talent that Hollywood continues to squander money on overindulgent and self congratulatory script after script.  However, Paranormal Activity films simply cannot happen without this simple, less-is-more approach because the format demands it.  Five uninterrupted minutes of exposition or dialogue would be out of character for this film and would effectively close off the fourth wall which the audience has been welcomed within every film thus far.  Every scene is authentic, the dialogue is appropriately reactive and both yield a frighteningly realistic recreation of paranormal activity in the real world.

Co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman continue to make great choices in regards to the moments in this film where the audience is suspended in terror and when to actually pay off that terror with stunning scenes that cut to the quick.  Without proper timing, horror films degenerate into Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street splatter-fests.  They are also to be credited (along with the writers) for the actual instances of ghostly interaction that deliver the scares on the screen.  These scenes vary from the extremely subtle, to suspenseful stalking, all the way to the overtly terrifying.  All of which are few and far between in comparison to the rest of the scenes in the movie, but when they happen, the viewer is assured to react in some noticeable way.  There is one aspect of the directors’ decision making process that confuses me somewhat, and that has to do with choosing the certain dates and times of the found footage that is selected to be displayed to the audience.  Without a specific inciting incident, it stands to reason that the paranormal activity is occurring regularly to this family regardless of the time period.  This presents the possibility of there being significant gaps in the plot, specifically when it shows the reaction of people in this realistic world to the inexplicable that was captured on video.  I can certainly say if I captured video evidence of ghosts, I would call the police, the church, the National Guard, psychics, anyone and everyone that could possibly help deal with the situation because I wouldn’t have a chance in hell.  This is one area where the Paranormal Activity films still bow to horror film conventions in empowering their protagonists with such an impractical level of self confidence in handling a haunting.

The visual effects in the third installment of this franchise continue to enhance the thrilling suspense and the anticipation of terror.  This level of realism is unprecedented in the horror genre and has become synonymous with the brand.  Kudos to Daniel Loiewski, the man most responsible for the visual effects in PA3 and someone I find surprisingly credited as a “visual effects intern” according to  Obviously, the entire production staff for this film contributed to the haunting realism that ultimately makes the final cut, but the proficiency of the effects throughout seems beyond that of a mere internist even if he or she is a complete wizard with After Effects software.  Some of the effects are similar to those which we have seen in the previous films while others introduce the closest proximity to the malevolent (and now named) demon that lies at the heart of the evil. 

Paranormal Activity 3 is a fine horror film that will once again give someone a moment to pause before climbing into bed and falling asleep every night.  It certainly reaffirms the fear and danger of dealing with black magic, dark forces and the occult.  It also shows that the home video style of filmmaking can remain relevant even in this digital day and age of 3D, CG and IMAX.  There is one thought I must express to the reader, which I hope somehow reaches this franchise’s filmmakers for an all but guaranteed sequel: please deliver an empowered (perhaps holy) counter attack on this seemingly unchecked haunting.  The one aspect that is shared amongst every Paranormal Activity film is that they are a presentation of found footage that was organized, dated and cataloged by some authoritative organization that recognizes at least some legitimacy of the events that transpire.  Who are these people?  Are they government?  Are they from the Church?  Is the overall story simply a documentary that’s picking up the pieces from an embodiment of chaos?  These are all questions I hope are being considered for surprising and satisfying answers in Paranormal Activity 4 because I really cannot be held in suspense over what immediately follows the ending of the second film much longer.