After hearing strange sounds in their new home, Dennis (Chris Smith) sets up video cameras to try to catch the paranormal activity on film.
Set in 1988, Paranormal Activity 3 is an interesting, albeit generic, ghost story that tells more of the story of Katie and her sister Kristi, the two main characters of Paranormal Activity and Paranormal Activity 2. Using the same ‘found footage’ format, this tell about their first encounter with the ghost/demon and is essentially an origin story. While it is not a great film by any means, it did keep my interest, which is surprising considering that the entire concept is nothing if not a one trick pony. Honestly, how many movies can you make with the same plot and same scares and same ‘found footage’ concept? Ok, that was a rhetorical question; this is Hollywood, after all, and they will keep churning them out as long as they keep making money (see the Saw franchise).
When Julie (Lauren Bittner) and her boyfriend Dennis move into a new home with Julie’s two young daughters, strange things start occuring. Dennis, a wedding videographer, sets up a camera to make a sex tape with Julie, only to be interrupted by an earthquake. When reviewing the tape, he sees that dust lands on an invisible figure in the room, who then moves and the dust falls. This experience spurs him to place cameras around the house to try to catch the activity on film. It is when these cameras are placed that he soon discovers that Julie’s youngest daughter, Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown), has an ‘imaginary’ friend that she talks to. From this point on, the activity only gets worse and the family is soon being terrorized by the ghost/demon, all of which is caught on crystal clear, digital looking video tape.
That last sentence is where my biggest problem is with this film. This film is set in 1988, when Kristi and Katie are children. I don’t know about you, but I remember video cassettes, and I remember that they look like poo. Especially video cassettes that were used in home video cameras of the time. Strangely enough, these must have been ‘is it live or is it Memorex’ tapes, because everything here is crystal clear. This in no way resembled any video tape that I had growing up. This is a BIG problem, because it throws you out of the time period that they are attempting to sell. If the film would have had the grainy, less than standard def visuals, I might have been sold on the film more. Instead, it is pretty and clear with nary a bit of grain to sell it.
Another problem, you ask? Ok, how about the first time they witness Toby (the name of the ghost/demon that Kristi talks to)? While that was perhaps the best scene in the film, the dust falling on the invisible figure, it is never taken advantage of. How quickly the characters forget that this being can be seen with dust on it. They never attempt to throw flour or anything to make the thing visible. If this were me, I would have never walked around the house without a bag of Gold Medal attached to my hip. Sure, I would have had a dirty house, but I sure as shit would have known where the ghosty was at all times.
Is there another problem, you ask? Indubitably. In these ‘found footage’ films, I can usually shake off the age old question of ‘why didn’t they just put the camera down?’. I can usually suspend my disbelief that they wouldn’t and that they would keep filming. There is a particular scene when Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Randy (Dustin Ingram), a friend of Dennis’, play ‘Bloody Mary’ in the bathroom. Something happens and Katie starts crying and freaking out. Instead of setting the camera down to console a child, Randy keeps filming and, of course, catches something moving past the bathroom door and subsequently a table and chairs being thrown in the girls room. I’m sorry, but if I have an 8 or 9 year old child crying and freaking out because of some spooky stuff, I am setting the camera down and going to try to comfort that child. I’m not going to keep filming the crying kid.
I know I have devoted three paragraphs to what is wrong with this film. Do not make the mistake that I hated the film, though. I didn’t. There were a couple gems buried in here as well. While I can’t say that the characters were particularly likable, they did came across as real. I bought the dynamic between Julie and her boyfriend Dennis and the children. I felt that they were real people attempting to make a life for themselves. While none of the characters were fleshed out extremely well, I did buy into the fact that we are just getting a small glimpse into their lives by way of video tapes and cameras set up around the house.
There was also a nice video camera set up that Dennis makes in the film that is used especially well. He takes an oscillating fan, removes the fan component, and attaches a camera so that the camera is panning back and forth between the kitchen and living room. It is a nice plot device that is used especially well in some of the most memorable scenes in the movie. Sure, it is obviously a little bit contrived (seriously, how many times in the ghost/demon going to go after people in the kitchen and only do stuff in front of the oscillating camera; i digress), but it works well in this film. Especially the scene shown in the photo I have posted in this review. If you have seen the movie, you will recognize that scene.
While I can’t say this was a brilliant film (far from it), it did hold my attention and interest. Was it particularly frightening? No. Do I feel that the Paranormal Activity films are one trick ponies? Yes. Honestly, I found the first film terrifying. While none of the jump scares got me, I did find my heart rate climbing at certain points. The second film was extremely disappointing, using the same scares and essentially being the same film as the first. This film attempted to do something a little bit different (see the ending, which is reminiscent of The Last Exorcism). I feel that this film series is getting stale, and should have been a one and done type of film. Something new needs to be done to liven up this series. No pun intended.
** out of ****
*Note* I just watched this film today, and don’t remember most of that stuff in the trailer happening . . . I watched the Director’s Cut of the film. . .Now I am curious as to whether the Theatrical Cut is completely different . . .I suppose as an objective observer and reviewer that I am going to have to watch that version of the film as well. Once I do, I will return with my thoughts in a different post, linked to this one.
- “Kristy, you wanna say hi?” Paranormal Activity 4 trailer (bizzam.wordpress.com)