Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)

Film #8: Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)

After watching the second Paranormal Activity film a few weeks ago, I had an immediate urge to follow-up with the third. Despite the disappointment of that film, I just love horror movies, and I have a special fondness for these found-footage movies that immerse the audience in verisimilitude. In any case, I would have expected the third movie to follow Katie and Hunter after the events of the second, but instead, it jumps back in time to the 80s and glorious VHS tapes to show us all the stuff that happened to Katie and Kristi when they were young. And so this movie follows them, their mother Julie, and their mother’s boyfriend Dennis, who takes it upon himself to film the house every night after noticing some unnatural dust settling on tape after an earthquake (which was only recording because they were about to make a sex tape – yes, the series finally went that route, but no, it doesn’t actualize into any nudity).

Paranormal Activity 3 has learned from its predecessor, and has a lot more going on earlier in the film. Of course the first few “scary” moments are the usual – thumps, lights flickering, doors slamming – but it quickly moves past these and starts ratcheting the terror up much more than either of the first two films. It also turns the scared/skeptical couple gender dynamics on its head by having Dennis be the one convinced of a supernatural presence and Julie the skeptic who tells him to knock it off. Perhaps her exasperation comes from the fact that Dennis spends each day reviewing the footage from the night before – undoubtedly annoying for her, but fantastic for any audience members who were pissed about the Rey family not utilizing the security cam footage in the previous film (myself included). These changes are slight but were significant to me, and the newest way the film uses the cameras – putting one on an oscillating fan base – results in a wonderfully slow sweeping pan that produces two great scares.

The second half of the film goes balls to the wall. As if the creepy and prescient little girl wasn’t Poltergeist enough for you, there are other moments taken directly from that classic supernatural horror film – one involving everything in a room being sucked into a closet, another involving an impressive stunt with furniture in the kitchen. I could complain about it lifting so much from that film, but really, the plagiarism doesn’t take anything away from how great these scenes are. This movie also moves closer to actually showing the supernatural presence – in the form of a dark shadow running past cracked doors – and builds upon the occultist theme vaguely introduced in the second film, taking it straight into Rosemary’s Baby country. Those moments, near the end, are perhaps the scariest yet in this series, and that’s definitely saying something.

Though you’d think the material would be worn thin by now, Paranormal Activity 3 reverses the drop in quality that the second film experienced and brings the series straight back into terrifying territory.

Final rating: 7.5/10

–James A. Janisse

Stray Observations:

  • Teddy Ruxpin!
  • Though I couldn’t work him into my review, shout out to Dustin Ingram, who played Dennis’ assistant Randy. That guy was awesome, and I’m glad he GTFO’ed when things got crazy.
  • I want to know how they did that stunt with the kitchen furniture. I know that in Poltergeist, which was also done in a single shot, the crew had to quickly and quietly put all those chairs on top of the table while JoBeth Williams looked away. I can’t imagine the same kind of thing was done here.
    • Apparently it was done in one take and involved a single button and hinges.
  • This is probably the scariest movie I’ve watched so far this year, meaning it beats out its predecessor, The Crazies, Insidious, and The Orphanage.
  • I watched this with a group of friends, including two that hated horror movies and were very displeased with the night’s selections (The Orphanage being the other). One of them stopped watching it halfway through, resigning himself to closing his eyes / staring at his lap for the remainder of the film, and he seemed pretty much broken by time the movie ended. I felt bad, but hey, embrace the fright. It’s what horror movies are for.
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