Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)

Yet again my movie watching plans were scuttled by a shitty release calendar. I was really hoping to give you a post about Retreat, a limited-distribution psychological thriller starring Cillian Murphy, Thandie Newton and Jamie Bell. The U.S. release is skipping New York, so I can’t tell you what happens when an isolated vacation spot leaves a troubled couple unable to confirm reports of an apocalyptic plague. Instead we get yet another superfluous installment in the Paranormal Activity series. I suppose I should be grateful there wasn’t a new Saw movie this year.

I like found footage movies. I adored Blair Witch, [REC] (also the U.S. version, Quarantine) and Cloverfield. I’ve done a few of them this year (TrollHunter, Last Exorcism), but the idea of a turning the premise for any found footage movie into a franchise strikes me as disingenuous. I’m willing to believe that in extremely unusual circumstances ordinary folks might be able to capture enough raw footage in their daily lives to cobble together an 80-minute haunted house movie. But for that feat to be accomplished by the members of same family three times in a row? If it’s that common for them, maybe the next one should just be called Activity.

But what can you do? Found footage is this year’s torture porn: another horror movie fad that will flourish, fade, and eventually be restored to the scary movie toolbox, to be taken out again only when appropriate. Until then, let’s enjoy what we have and try to ignore the blinking red light.

Remember that birthday party you had when we were kids?

The story: The first two Paranormal Activities followed adult sisters Katie and Kristi, each dealing with their own domestic hauntings. Both movies suggest that their supernatural troubles began in childhood. PA3 gives us that childhood.

The movie starts with Katie and Kristi, all growed up, finding a box of old VCR tapes. They say these tapes were the only things stolen when Kristi’s house was broken into in PA2. There are two problems here. One, that’s bullshit: it was a necklace. There was no mention of old videos in the last movie so take your retroactive continuity and cram it in your peehole. And two, if we’re about to watch the very tapes that were stolen from Kristi’s house, doesn’t that mean the people who made this movie were the burglars? Somebody call the logic police.

Oh that birthday party.

The rest of the movie takes place in 1988, starting with Katie’s very normal birthday. Everyone is having a lovely time, including Kristi’s imaginary friend, Toby. In a wholly unexpected twist, it turns out Toby is not imaginary at all. His influence around the house is subtle at first, limited to broken light bulbs and slammed doors. Concerned parents Dennis and Julie begin to investigate and things go from curious to chaotic in a hurry.

"Toby's room. No girls allowed."

Biggest letdown: I’ll keep watching as long as they keep making them (and there’s nothing better playing), but it’s hard to ignore how contrived the found footage convention has gotten in this storyline. Video cameras and high-quality tape were bulky and expensive in the ’80s. Yet somehow Dennis manages to film every mundane activity, including shots of himself taking still photographs and reviewing earlier video footage. He’s a videographer, which explains why he has a few cameras and an editing bay in his garage. But by the end he deploys at least four stationary cameras around the house, plus the one he carries around. Considering he’s able to churn out theatrical-grade resolutions, we’re talking about a pretty elaborate setup for a guy who tapes weddings for a living.

All right, the oscillating fan camera mount is pretty clever.

You know this series isn’t done yet so where do we go from here? Maybe we’ll check in with grandma via a series of daguerreotype flipbooks. Or we can follow some archaeologists who find out the drawings in the Cave of Forgotten Dreams depict the paranormal encounters of the first members of this accursed family to walk upright. Or we could go to the future, when everyone has laser cameras surgically implanted in their eyeballs. Fuck me, I would watch all of these.

One last thing – the ending makes zero sense. I don’t do spoilers but you’ll see what I mean.

What kind of parent doesn't restrain their kids at night?

Why you should watch: The ads for PA3 (and probably the previous episodes) show night-vision footage of an audience losing their shit while watching the movie. That’s not an exaggeration. People around me in the theater literally screamed out loud at several points. I don’t care how tough you are, big scares remain thrilling even if the concept has gotten so worn and silly it no longer makes you afraid to sleep with the lights off. Just like the gratuitous gore in the annual Saw movies: if you want to be startled in October, Paranormal Activity would like your thirteen dollars.

I also have to point out that a lot of the scenes from the trailers did NOT make it into the theatrical cut. I won’t say which ones, but in most cases the omissions made the movie more tolerable. Based on the trailer I was expected an anti-gravity extravaganza, with people flying around the room every other minute. While there’s still plenty of that, the removal of some of the excess gives what remains a bit more impact.

One of many scenes wisely left on the cutting room floor.

Memorable Moment: After three movies purporting to be culled from massive stockpiles of candid home movies, we finally get the first makings of a sex tape! Julie does her best to be as cute and endearing as grown-up Katie from the first film. She shyly smokes a joint in bed before surprising Dennis by agreeing to make a little on-camera sexy-sexy. Unfortunately nothing kills the mood like the telltale rumbling of an imminent supernatural encounter. This time, however, it’s not a ghost to blame, just an earthquake. But what’s that invisible form collecting drywall dust in the middle of the room? And why does this brand new house leak dirt from the ceiling like a mineshaft during a cave-in?

Choice quote: “Yeah, I feel something too, I’m not gonna lie. I feel a camera.”

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3 Responses to “Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)”

  1. […] Paranormal Activity 3 – This family spends entirely too much on video equipment. […]

  2. […] supposed to be Retreat, which my legions of devoted fans will recall I tried to catch in theaters last year, only to discover it wasn’t getting a New York premiere. This year I fared no better. The […]

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