Paranormal Activity 3 Review

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.

B+

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12 thoughts on “Paranormal Activity 3 Review

  1. Great review! Now I’ll definitely have to check it out!

  2. Psh, you got me all excited with what you tweeted me earlier today all to have me let down. I was honestly disappointed with the third. Loved the first two, don’t care much for this one. You’re such a liar, Karl. Tisk-tisk.

  3. AJ says:

    I get all warm and tingly inside when you mention me in your blog.

  4. Jessica says:

    Ok I saw the movie and it left me with so many questions. What happened to all the seens from the previews? Was there more after the credits? Did we leave too early and miss a bunch? I felt like there should have been more.
    Jess from STL

    • AJ says:

      Pardon the long reply in advance…

      I deliberately avoided the previews this time around because the trailer for the first one ruined some moments for me that should have been really awesome. After I saw the movie, I went back and watched the previews and at first was really confused as well, but then I was immensely grateful. Even if I had seen the trailer accidentally, I would have gone into the movie completely fresh. I think this is what they were going for, they wanted to avoid giving away all the big scares in the movie so they just used a bunch of scenes that look awesome in the trailer but would have sucked in the movie. Seriously, over half of the scare moments from the trailer were either super gimmicky (the water falling on the invisible figure) or would have destroyed the film’s subtlety (constant loud noises, furniture flying everywhere, people getting dragged or violently jostled every three seconds). They sure did look cool in the trailer though.
      And, to the people who were angry that they didn’t get to see the cool scenes from the trailer, I say, “Yeah, you did. In the friggin’ trailer.” The trailer is readily available online if you want to see those scenes again. In fact, compared to watching the movie, that’s a hell of a time saver.

      • karlpfeiffer says:

        Yeah that bothered me a ton for PA2, with scenes like the baby in the street and Katie in the bathroom being all creepy like, and then never showed up. Here those scenes in the trailer felt like deleted scenes (that, as AJ says, were deleted for good reason) but totally worked in the trailer. i didn’t feel like we saw major plot points that then didn’t turn up, confusingly so. Which, I’ve gotta agree with AJ, is a really fantastic move on their part.

        Comedy movies need to get in line for that idea.

  5. AJ says:

    My thoughts 24 hours later:
    I think what I didn’t like about the second one was that the multi-camera effect, while a nice step from the single camera of the first, diminished the effectiveness of the off-screen space. Any horror filmmaker worth a damn will tell you that what the viewer can’t see and therefore must imagine is ten times scarier than anything that is actually visible. That’s why Jaws is still scary, because you don’t see the shark until the very end. So, while it was a clever idea, the use of security cameras, whose very purpose is to see as much as possible, minimizes the effect of the unseen space.

    With this in mind, the oscillating fan-camera (oscifamera?) alone made the movie for me. It was a brilliant way to cover a large area while simultaneously keeping the viewer in the dark about what was going on when the camera was turned away. In every scene shot from that camera, we are not scared by what we see in the room that the camera is focused on, but rather what might be going on in the room that we can’t see. We are constantly reminded that we are not in control of what we look at and that is probably the most uncomfortable thing of all. Furthermore, from a filmmaking standpoint, the “choreography” that must have been required to make these scenes work is absolutely stunning. Hardly anyone ever considers just how difficult it is to set up even a stationary shot, let alone one with a moving camera where the area you’re working with is at least twice as big (If you’re interested, check out the first eight minutes of a movie called The Player, a director’s nightmare and a film scholar’s wet dream).

    Moving on, it was nice to actually have a likable couple at the center of the plot for once. In PA1 we get Asshat (thanks, Karl) who shows next to little compassion for what Katie is going/has been through, openly going against her wishes, no matter how earnestly she pleads with him (seriously dude, a fucking Ouija board? I haven’t been that pissed at a protagonist since Ofelia ate those goddamn grapes). In PA2, I kind of understand Daniel’s skepticism but he still comes off as a douche. This time around, both Julie and Dennis react to the events in ways that allow us to sympathize with them rather than thinking “Why the hell did you do that?”

    And that’s all I have to say about that.

    • karlpfeiffer says:

      Good stuff man — I think the characters were the most honest and real in the second one, even if the dad was a douche. I hear there are a lot of douche dads these days. My biggest problem with 2 was the horrendous pacing that made the climax feel like they ran out of budget and turned it into an epilogue, but then, it’s been a while since I saw it.

  6. Wow. This AJ guy seems like an insightful, intelligent, handsome, and well-endowed gentleman. Good thing he’s leaving comments or this board would be super boring to read.

    PS: I hear he actually has a WordPress account, he just forgot about it before writing all those comments. I also hear he has an enormous penis.

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