Saw Paranormal Activity 3 last night at midnight release. Yes. I tolerated the drunk college dudes yelling (“Take it off!” and “Fake!”) when the lights would go down. (“Night 13 dude. THIR-teen. This is where all the shit’s gonna go down” and the surprisingly aware; “It’s the upside down triangles in the circle thing, that’s the devil’s symbol.” “No. It’s just a pagan symbol.” “No brah, I’m pretty sure if it’s upside down, then it’s the devil’s.” “No, it’s just Pagan.” I almost turned around to tell them they were both right, and that it’s called a Pentagram.) (PS, for you googlers, I don’t know what that other symbol is, if it’s an actual occult symbol at all, sorry.)
For you guys. I endure. You know. Cuz I’m the hero you need.
I guess that would make my filmmaker buddy AJ, who was with me, the hero you deserve. I’m sorry.
(That’ll teach you to stop stealing your buddy’s cereal when you think no one’s watching. Yes you)
I don’t have much bad to say about this film. If anything, my qualms come with the overall trilogy and how it took three movies to iron out seams that should probably have been ironed out in a few more script revisions (cough, PA2. Cough. Too overt? Sorry, I’ll go for subtlety. The writing in PA2 BLEW).
Here, the pacing was perfect. Aside from a dust-on-an-invisible-human-figure-shape far too early in the movie, which seemed like too much, too obvious, too soon., the escalation of activity was perfect. The characters were likable – though I can’t say we got to know them the way we got to know the nuances of their personality that Asshat and Katie carried in the first film.
And, like the second, there is that ONE SCENE that has me practically jumping onto my chair – not in fear because of some great scare – but because of the EPIC that’s unleashed in the moment. This one kills the one in PA2.
The first, I’ll say each time, was brilliant until the end (even my hatred of Asshat was a testament to a well acted, well written character), taking the very fine nuances of those residential hauntings that so terrify many families, and translating that to film in a genre populated by sawed-off limbs, excessive blood, drooling zombies, and back-breaking demonic contortions. Essentially, the first was an achievement in subtlety in a now-overt genre, for a public that’s become hard against shock and torture porn. It was well-researched. well-presented.
But by the third, it’s old hat. Like these days’ Bond flicks, it’s a sequence (here, jump scares, there actions scenes) linked together by scattered underlying plot points. PA2 took the plot a creative step forward. 3 is filling in the gaps. Making this story last beyond this one would quickly be trite.
Possibly my favorite parts about these movies is the return of emphasis, with that subtlety, on cinematography. PA2 introduced storytelling from multiple cameras a la House of Leaves. PA3 introduces the oscillating camera, and the — as filmmaker friend and deserved hero AJ describes it — choreography required to make these shots perfect in pitch, timing, and dread, is a work of art. Each movie is indeed a progression (and reminder) of the effectiveness of subtlety to craft genuine creeping dread.
By the third though, here too it’s still becoming old hat. They make good play on the anticipated jump scares and amp up the violence of the later activity in a way that’s written well enough that it feels not at all overdone, but anything beyond 3 would be a mockery of everything that came before.
If you didn’t like the first two because they weren’t scary, odds are this one won’t be particularly satisfying (though of the three it has the best chance of doing it, if any). This movie finally finds that line between movies for those people who want to be scared by the dread of anticipation and those who like a bit of good unseen back-breaking power, but ultimately it’s still Paranormal Activity, it’s still about that use of space outside the camera’s frame, a family utterly broken by a dark history, and of that alien, demonic horror that you’re powerless to — powerless that is, unless you command it.
“A” movies for me are thematic masterpieces; movies that are really trying to make a statement or a commentary. The first in some ways did work at this. By the third — it’s for the scares. But it does its scares well.