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Review: Paranormal Activity 3 [Dir: Henry Joost/Ariel Schulman – 2011]

[CONTAINS SPOILERS]

‘Paranormal Activity’ was one of those movies that on my initial viewing I thought was just “all right”, I thought that as a low key haunting movie that didn’t go overboard and kept it as grounded as possible (or “realistic” if you prefer) it was fine. But I didn’t necessarily think it was as incontinence inducing as the ad campaign suggested.
But cut to a few months later I watched it again and found it far more effective and yes, scary. I now consider myself quite a big fan of the original movie and rank it up there with ‘Blair Witch’ as far as solid “hand held horror” features go, a sub-genre that I tend to really enjoy.

As for ‘Paranormal Activity 2’, it was fine, not great, but decent. It takes far too long to get going and, like Paranormal Activity 3, adds things to the story that seem to contradict or outright change what we were lead to believe in the original.

When it was announced that the directors of ‘Catfish’ had signed on to helm ‘PA 3’ I was pleased. I loved ‘Catfish’, and whether you believe that the documentary is as factual as it claims to be, it’s still a really well put together movie that is as sweet and funny as it is sad and unsettling.

The film opens with Katie from Part 1 popping over to her sister Kristi’s house with an old box of home movies on VHS that she found whilst clearing out her house. Then we cut to the opening of ‘Paranormal Activity 2’ where Kristi’s house has been “burgled“…And here’s where the retcon fest begins. In PA2 the only thing that has been stolen, the ONLY thing, was a necklace…But of course because of these new tapes, they go back and shoe horn in a line of dialogue to explain that, oh no, those tapes have also been stolen. Then we experience some bad VHS tracking…

We are then taken back to 1988 where Katie and Kristi are children. They live with their mother, Julie and her new boyfriend, Dennis in a house that seems far too lavish and expensive for a family with seemingly only one working parent who makes a living as a wedding videographer, but I digress…

Kristi has an imaginary friend named ‘Toby’ and it all seems innocent enough at first, until Dennis notices a strange occurrence during an earthquake where some falling dust seems to fall onto an invisible presence. So, Dennis and his chum Randy hook up a couple of camera’s around the house, also making a make shift panning device out of an oscillating fan base. And then it’s the same old routine from parts one and two, Night 1, Night 2 etc

I’m not quite sure how they managed to mess this up so badly…First they release a trailer that is made up of 70% deleted footage which makes the film look way more high octane and eventful than it actually is. On one hand, I commend them for releasing a trailer that gives away almost zero spoilers compared to the finished film (even though it seems like it’s giving away everything, which surprised me at first) , as today trailers tend to give away far too much…But unless your finished product delivers on an even grander scale, then you’ve pretty much just shot yourself in the foot.
Apparently the film was being edited as they were filming, giving them lot’s of elbow room for change’s in direction if things didn’t look up to par, so it’s likely that the trailer was put together before the film was in it’s final editing stages, which hopefully they now realise was a stupid thing to do when you’re editing and re-shooting as you go.
The thing is, films like this don’t even need full blown trailers; a simple, creepy understated teaser is all you need, like the “Bloody Mary” teaser for example, fair enough that isn’t really in the movie either but it made for an effective teaser.

My next problem with the movie was the apparent lack of effort put in to making this look like it was actually set in the 1980’s. No, I wasn’t expecting them to genuinely shoot on VHS or downgrade it in post to look like VHS quality, and I wasn’t expecting everyone to look like the cast of ’Fame’, but I was expecting the characters to actually wear 80’s style clothing or have a house with 80’s décor. Julie’s hairstyle was quite 80’s in a Karen Allen-esque way, and the babysitter that turned up looked a bit like Corey Feldman’s girlfriend in ‘the ‘Burbs’ but that’s about it, give or take a big old square TV with wood panelling here and some old fashioned editing equipment there, they just seem more like a family of retroists.

As for changes in the over all mythology of the series…Fans were expecting to see the events that were mentioned by Katie in the original, where a dark figure stood by her bed and then their house mysteriously burned to the ground. Now obviously, considering the original was never meant to be this huge franchise, they weren’t going to just simply have a dark figure standing around for 90 minutes then a house burn down…But not even a slither of these recollections are in the movie. Many other things happen though, like a young Katie being picked up by her hair by ‘Toby’ and furniture being thrown all over her bedroom…So how come she never remembered any of this in the original movie? Oh yeah, it’s probably to do with the “brainwashing” plot point they ram in there at the last second to excuse them for doing what ever they felt like. Of course!

I know there will be lots of people who won’t care about the messy timeline and plot of these movies. Hell, I’m sure there are many who aren’t even aware that each film is related to one and other and only really wait to jump out of their seat and that’s fine. But that isn’t excuse for the film makers to be lazy and give flimsy excuses as to why the series now has plot holes.

As for what I liked about the movie? Well the performances are good, I thought the two kids did a great job acting genuinely terrified by the whole situation. As for just how scary the damn thing is…There are two stand out moments in the movie for me, one is a rather clever gag involving a white sheet and the other is a more OTT version of the infamous kitchen table scene in Poltergeist. Both of these scenes make use of the films gimmick, the oscillating fan camera, which really is a nice addition. But to be honest, there are two fake jumps in the movie, where characters either play jokes on each other or simply jump in front of the panning camera…and they made me jump more than anything that was really meant to. Which is a shame.

As for the finale, which was marketed something along the lines of “the final 15 minutes will have you crying for your mother or praying for death with pants full of your own piss and shit”…What it should have said was “It’s quite eerie but not as good as we think it is”. There are some who didn’t get it, but there are clues to the endings meaning in Part 2. I got it, but it didn’t leave me with my underpants full.

Finally…Who is watching these stolen tapes? In the first two movies you got the impression the footage was found and released by the authorities. Here either the fucking demon is watching them or simply we are. Lame. Why not just have a disclaimer before the film began that reads “These tapes were delivered to the FBI by an anonymous source” or something. It’s better than assuming a demon has dug his old VCR out of the attic and is reliving his glory days. There are some who speculate that the mysterious cult that are mentioned and seen through out parts 2 and 3 came and stole them…They decided to wait 20 years, whilst tapes that contained incriminating evidence just sat there, before stealing them. Makes total sense.

Anyway, I’m sorry if I seem overly angry or critical over something as harmless as the Paranormal Activity series, but I was really hoping to enjoy PA3. And besides, I was really overdue for a good long rant.

Aaaannnd breathe…and fuck Toby.

Discussion

One thought on “Review: Paranormal Activity 3 [Dir: Henry Joost/Ariel Schulman – 2011]

  1. Fuck Toby? No, Toby says fuck you sideways! He was always second fiddle to the original curtain twitcher Pipes anyway! Nice reviews dong.

    Posted by Adham Wigam | March 5, 2012, 1:59 am

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