Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review: Paranormal Activity 3

Non Spoiler Review:
Paranormal Activity 3 is set in 1988 (except for a very brief prologue in 2005). Katie (Chloe Csengery) and little sister Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) are living with their mother Julie (Lauren Bittner) and her new boyfriend Dennis in quite a lavish late 80s house. Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) videotapes weddings for a living. Kristi starts talking about her imaginary friend Toby after a shower of dust from a minor earthquake reveals an odd shape in the bedroom caught on camera. Dennis is intrigued and sets up his equipment throughout the house to see what he can find. As expected, he finds a lot, and the mystery of Toby, along with the greater storyline involving the girls, their mother, and future Katie's experience, gets filled in.

Full disclosure—I did not see Paranormal Activity 2, but loved the first film for its effective chills. So I felt I could go into this prequel without worrying too much about what transpired in the previous one. To its credit, someone unfamiliar with the trilogy can still enjoy this one without feeling they've missed out on too much (and can then go on to enjoy the first with a different perspective).

I enjoyed the late 80s feel of the movie, though the family house seemed a bit overly extravagant for a single mother. Like Micah in the first, Dennis is extremely likable and the audience certainly feels sympathy for him having to investigate the mystery with little help from his girlfriend, who would much rather just ignore everything before it's too late. That being said, he is basically an 80s version of Micah, so there's nothing different that really stands out about him. The child actors do deliver some convincing performances, as well.

As far as scares, there's nothing new and exciting that will leave you sleeping with the lights on. For me, the first film's three-toed footprints in the powder and attic door askew really can't be topped for chills, and nothing here creates the same effect for me. But the long, silent camera pans succeed in building anticipation for the inevitable shocks.

However...there are some big criticisms.

First, Toby's manifestations tend to be increasingly more powerful. While the first movie really had only one big moment when it dragged Katie out of bed, this one had Toby exhibiting a lot of strength without any real explanation—lifting up a child, as well as the entire contents of the kitchen. Yes, this isn't a movie based in reality, but at least some rules should be followed, in my opinion, and the more subtle actions can be far more eerie than blatant showboating on the part of the entity.

There are HUGE discrepancies between what is seen in the trailer, and what we get in the movie. The scenes of Kristi jumping off the landing and walking up the stairs, a psychic making an appearance, and the house burning down as was mentioned in the first film—none of those are actually in the movie. So when it abruptly ended, I was left scratching my head trying to figure out where those scenes might belong. That may not bother some people, but I really hate getting lead on by a trailer.

This franchise is heading towards another sequel, which can explain why they've changed their mind about the ending. But given what I know of the first movie, there are too many lingering continuity problems. I would have preferred they focus more on this one rather than future installments and tied things together better.

But Paranormal Activity 3 does succeed in delivering some creepiness. Perhaps not as strong as the first, depending on what scares you. For me, the scenes where Toby's size and presence was hinted at in the room was more eerie than creaking doors and flashing lights. If you're a fan of the series, it's worth seeing in the theatre for some chills, and you'll leave with a very good sense of what is going on with the family and how Toby got there. Newbies can also enjoy the novelty of this particular found footage entry, but it's ultimately just another chapter in the Paranormal Activity franchise.

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