Paranormal Activity 3 Review

[BoxTitle]Paranormal Activity 3[/BoxTitle] [Trailer][/Trailer] [BuyTickets][/BuyTickets]

The Paranormal Activity movies have the distinct honor of probably being the main reason we don’t have a new Saw movie every Halloween any more. The first five Saw chapters made a ton of money whilst costing very little, but poor Saw VI came out the same year (and month) as the first Paranormal Activity, a film that brought the horror out of Jigsaw’s basements and dungeons and into the friggin’ bedroom. PA was scarier than Saw, and more personal, and more intimate — and it didn’t have a trace of the “gore porn” that by then had gotten stale and rotten.

It could be said that the Paranormal Activity franchise is our new Saw, a cinematic trick/treat to look forward to every year. The third film keeps the low-budget (and still extremely effective) aesthetic of its predecessors and has yet to embrace graphic violence over sheer unbearable freaky-deaky atmosphere, but it is perhaps the most Saw-like in its twisty-turny narrative that often flashes back, skips forward and folds in on itself — a narrative device that, admittedly, the Saw movies often pulled off beautifully (or is that disgustingly?).

PA3 takes place (for the most part — and we’ll leave it at that) in September 1988 in the home of Dennis (Christopher Nicolas Smith), his girlfriend, Julie (Lauren Bitter) and her two daughters (who need no introduction), Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown). Mom and Mom’s Boyfriend’s recording of a would-be sex tape (on VHS, of course — now that’s old school!) is interrupted (or perhaps is the cause of, heh heh) an earthquake, the aftermath of which reveals the shape of… something in the cracked ceiling.

This, we assume, is “Toby,” who becomes the “imaginary” (ha!) friend of little Kristi. And, if you’ve seen the trailer, you know how temperamental Toby can be.

Paranormal Activity had, for the most part, just one static camera set up in the bedroom. Paranormal Activity 2 had several cameras set up throughout the house, and upped the ante even more by adding an infant and a dog. Paranormal Activity 3 reduces the amount of cameras to just three but adds a really nifty gimmick to one of them — while the ones in the respective bedrooms of the grownups and the kids remain (more or less) static, the third is attached to the base of an oscillating fan that pans ever so maddeningly from left to right across the kitchen. As you can probably imagine, a lot of the film’s most startling images and best scares (one of which is a terrific Poltergeist homage involving the kitchen table and chairs) are seen and experienced from this point of view.

PA3 isn’t perfect. The formula — while it still most definitely works — has become familiar, and directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Catfish) sometimes struggle to keep things fresh and lively. They sometimes go off the rails as well, pushing the wire work (or however they do it) a bit too much (a possible PA3 drinking game would be to take a shot every time someone gets yanked/tossed/slammed into something by invisible forces) and indulging in some “false” frights that come off as rather‚Ķ well, dumb. But PA3 is nothing if not ambitious, and the directors (and screenwriter Christopher B. Landon) deserve credit for at least trying to put on the biggest show yet — and for pulling off some of the franchise’s biggest scares to date.

So go see it, and see it with a crowd (there’s never been a communal film experience quite like the PA movies). For the third year in a row, Paranormal Activity is the cleverest trick and the tastiest treat at the movies.

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