Movie Review: Paranormal Activity 3

By Matthew Huntley

October 31, 2011

Spirits welcome here.

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I was afraid this might happen. Paranormal Activity 3 is proof the studio and filmmakers are trying too hard to milk this somewhat limited franchise for all it's worth. And if other horror series – nay, most film series - have taught us anything, it’s that you should quit while you’re ahead. This franchise was ahead, but now it’s taken a step back.

The original Paranormal Activity worked because it was fresh, innovative and unexpected, and it was sort of ingenious the way the filmmakers came up with different excuses for the characters to videotape themselves. This “found footage” approach was hardly original, but the movie came at a time when it re-invigorated such a strategy and it generated real chills. Paranormal Activity 2 was, in some ways, even better because the waters had been tested and it capitalized on the goods of its predecessor.

Now comes part 3, but this time the filmmakers merely recycle the conventions of the first two movies and resort to cheap gimmicks popularized by your average B horror movie. Sure, there are some tense and “jump out and scare you”-type moments along the way, but for the most part, the movie is inconsequential.

The footage this time is from 1988, when sisters Katie and Kristi, who were victimized in one way or another in the first two movies, were little girls sharing a room. Once again, there is reason to believe an evil spirit is living among them. Together with their mom, Julie (Lauren Bittner), and stepdad, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith), they play and roam around one of those wide-open, high-ceiling houses where it’s always easy to get a panoramic view of multiple rooms at the same time.


One night, Julie and Dennis decide to make a sex video, but an earthquake interrupts them. When the dust settles, the camera captures an invisible entity in the couple’s room. Dennis, a videographer, studies it and decides to set up a multiple cameras in the house to catch any other “paranormal activity.”

Meanwhile, little Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) goes around talking to her imaginary friend named Toby, which is innocent enough, except that strange things start to happen, like a door suddenly slams shut and locks Katie (Chloe Csengery) in the crawl space; and Dennis’ friend Randy (Dustin Ingram) learns how the game “Bloody Mary” lives up to its name. Scenes like these are visceral but short-lived, and if you’ve seen the first two movies, you’ve already come to expect them.

And that’s really the problem with Paranormal Activity 3, and probably any future sequels from this franchise (of which there will likely be many considering how inexpensive they are to make): we already know what to expect and can anticipate all the moves. If the first two movies established the rules, this one simply abides by them. We recognize the setups and await the payoffs, but because it’s more of the same during this third venture, there’s little in the way of surprises.

The ads try to hook us by promising we’ll learn where all the “activity” began, and while the movie does provide answers, I think it’s bolder and scarier not to reveal such things. Why does everything have to be explained? There’s more fun in imagining and speculating. The reason, I think, is because the studio wanted to cash in and they had no other direction to go. The series has officially gone from creative to commodified, and while it does have some effective moments that allow it to live up to its horror label, the thing I fear most is how bad this franchise could get if it stays on its current course.



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