Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Movie Review: Paranormal Activity 3

Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown
Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
Directed By: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Starring: Christopher Nicholas Smith, Lauren Bittner, Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown

The best horror films are often the ones that make our skin crawl without the director ever having to show us exactly what is getting under our skin.

Knowing very little about the Paranormal Activity franchise (I saw the first film once and never bothered to watch the sequel), I thought this three-quel prequel did a solid job of gradually building tension without ever going over-the-top in the cheap scares department. It just proves that, in most cases, the less you see, the scarier the situation.

Under the assured direction of Henry Joost and Ariel Shulman, the film takes its time setting up the scene for this third instalment -- a rarity in most horror films nowadays, which tend to go straight for the gratuitous shots of blood and gore.

It's 1988 and siblings Katie and Kristi have moved into a new house with their mom, Julie (Lauren Bittner), and mom's boyfriend, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith). Almost immediately, younger sister Kristi starts telling her family about her new imaginary best friend, Toby. Around the same time, Dennis accidentally catches some suspicious activity on his video camera one night. He goes into detective mode and sets up three cameras around the house -- one in his bedroom, one in the girls' bedroom and one that pans over the living room and dining area.

Paranormal Activity 3 is prequel meant to explain why these two sisters are susceptible, throughout their life (and in the other films), to visitations from things that go bump in the night.The formula has already been established with the first two films; yet, despite the "been there, done that" feel of the film, it still manages to spook its audience.The use of an oscillating fan to capture paranormal activity on the panning camera in the kitchen is an especially creepy touch, leaving the audience to catch mere glimpses of strange activity from their peripheral vision only.

Proper character development is often the biggest casualty in the "found footage" sub-genre; however the two young actresses playing Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) give solid performances. From start the finish, these two young actresses -- and the unseen spooks -- sustain our attention, and a consistent sense of dread, from start to finish. It's not the actual scares that hold our interest, it's the slow-building suspense and sudden jolts.

The only real downfall is the perplexing ending that very nearly topples the entire film with its bizarre and unexplained conclusion. It pretty much guarantees a fourth movie is in the works, but the cliffhanger leaves no real clues as to which direction the franchise will go in next.

Although the whole "found footage" trend has essentially been reduced to a gimmick at this point, the creators of Paranormal Activity 3 show that, if used right, it can still rise above average material and produce some genuine scares.



  1. Your first sentence is spot on perfect!! For me that is what makes a great horror great. This is a few weeks away from playing here but I already know what happens thanks to blogosphere! I think too often now horrors rely on blood and gore for an effect rather than genuine scares.
    I do like this franchise and have always found the idea of posssesion fascinating. And I agree with your assessment that the found footge premise has now reached gimmick stage. I wrote a similar thing in my recent review of Norwegian found footage film Trollhunter. In it I said the premise has been stretched to its limits and its limitations exposed.
    I still consider The Exorcist the greatest horror ever even though we see what is so scary. But even so it is still a chilling film that has been so often imitated but never beaten. PA owes it a real debt!

  2. Films, in general, have become more violent and, as a result, most new horror films go over the top to trump all those other films from other genres.

    Ha! I heard about Trollhunter. I'll have to check out your review. I know some people site it as one of their favourite guilty pleasure films.

    The Exorcist is still my favourite horror film, as well. I agree that a lot of the scary material is shown; however, we never actually see how the demon possessed her in the first place which I like because it still leaves a bit of mystery to the whole thing. The way Regan gradually changes from good girl to despondent preteen to raging demon is great!

  3. There is an excellent review of The Exorcist from The Movie Snob if you want to take a look. I've been saying the same things about it for months in various snippets in horror posts. But he has summed it all up perfectly in one.
    Have you read the novel? It is one of the few times where I think the film adaptation far surpasses the book!! I was really let down by it and thought it quite ordinary.
    It is funny looking at the majority of Northern Hemisphere blogs with Halloween aproaching. To us at the bottom half it means nothing!! But I see various retail outlets here are trying to drum it up and sell costumes etc to cash in.
    Anyway enough rambling, here is the link!

    If it doesn't work due to my shoddy typing skills there is a link through my blog. Just click of the movie snob!!

  4. Thanks for that link. I'll give it a read! No, I didn't even know it was based on a novel. I probably wouldn't bother checking that out. haha.

    Do you not celebrate Halloween at all or is it just not overly popular in New Zealand?

  5. No not at all. It just isn't part of out historical heritage. I'm not sure why the early settlers didn't bring the celebration with them and keep it going. To be honest I don't know what it is all about!! Something to do with the winter solstice?? I'm not even sure if it is a holiday or just a calender date! It really is a northern hempisphere thing.
    But yeah it is completely foreign to us, Aussie, South Africa, etc.
    Peter Blatty wrote The Exorcist and it is one to miss for sure!