Saturday, October 22, 2011

Paranormal Activity 3 - Theatrical Review


Release Date: October 21, 2011

Judging from the multiple sold out midnight screenings at my local theater (13 sold out screenings to be exact), I doubt anything I say here will have any sort of effect on whether or not you will see this film. Although I am still gonna give my 2 cents on it.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: AMC 30 at the Block in Orange
Time: 12:01 pm October 21, 2011  
Projector Type: Digital 2D ETX
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 1 hr 24 min
Studio: Paramount Pictures

Loves: Being scared
Likes: Scary movies that show you very little
Neutral: The entire "found footage" concept is getting real old
Hates: Being scared
Better: Than the Saw series

Apparently the Paranormal Activity franchise (I can't believe it is a franchise already) has taken the proverbial annual Halloween scary movie throne from the much over hyped and very dead (thank god) Saw series. I never really got all that into the Saw films, I stopped after the second one. But I appreciated that there was some sort of hook that kept people coming back each year even if it did nothing for me personally. The real problem I had with Saw and just about every other movie like it (Hostel) was that they were never really scary, they were more interested in grossing you out in place of well deserved scares. That is what I like most about the Paranormal Activity series, they are a complete reversal to what we have been getting each year. Instead of seeing people being ripped apart by all different types of contraptions we get a tension filled and mostly well told ghost stories that just keep getting creepier with each new entry.

After a very quick and clean lead in to this prequel of a prequel we find ourselves zapped back to the year 1988. We then become witness to what I suppose are the home videos of the last two films protagonists, Katie and her younger sister Kristi. The set up will be familiar to anyone that has seen the last two films, a family living their normal lives in a giant house and a boyfriend/husband who has an affinity for putting up video cameras around the house to capture the strange events that keep occurring. The payoff will also be familiar as well as we see things slowly escalate from harmless knocks on the wall to people being pulled up by their hair and thrown across the room. There really isn't any story here other than us watching a close knit family get torn apart by ghostly apparitions, but by this point that is all we expect from these movies.

Hey look, it's a camera pointing at a bed...

Your mileage will vary with this third part in a surprisingly well constructed trilogy of films (so far). You have seen this movie before. Twice before to be exact, but if you liked what you saw before chances are you will like this even more. Redundancy usually kills a film series faster than a saw cuts through wood but that has strangely not been the case with Paranormal Activity. In fact I would almost argue that if each of the three films had NOT been as closely related to each other as they have been (stylistically) then much of what makes them work so well would be lost. Now I am usually on the side of the fence arguing against sequels that do nothing more than copy their predecessors but I have to admit that if we are to get more entries into this series (which we most likely are) then I hope that they find some more clever ways to keep it on the track it is on.

That's not to say that PA3 is some sort of masterpiece because it isn't. It is a scare machine that does what it does fairly well but at what cost? I really don't want to get into the whole "found footage" bashing (which I have done enough of in the past) but it still bugs the shit out of me when there are huge gaps in the logic of how the film works. In PA1 we are under the impression that Micah is just a guy who loves to film stuff and has a very active sense of curiosity that doesn't turn out too well for him. In PA2 the next logical step was to move away from a hand held camera and instead have our window into this world be through strategically placed security cameras. Both those scenarios worked fine and never really had me second guessing (too much) as to why someone would be filming themselves or their family so damned much. PA3 however really starts to stretch the limitations of the genre and asks us to make some rather huge leaps in logic that quite frankly don't add up.

Behold...the very first oscillating camera in Paranormal Activity!

At the opening of this film we see the Katie and Kristi as adults before any of the events in either PA1 or PA2 have taken place. Katie is moving and has to store some stuff in Kristi's basement for a while and one of the boxes just so happens to be full of old VHS tapes. Contained on these tapes are (apparently) old family movies from when they were younger. Soon after the tapes are stored an event occurs and as they search their home for anything out of place they discover that the only thing missing are Katie's video tapes. Right at that moment we (the audience) begin watching the tapes...supposedly. Now the reason for my non-committal attitude towards all this is because the tapes create some pretty big problems for me which only came to light after the conclusion of the film.

Without getting too much into it other than I already have, I will say that if what we actually see go down in this film is what was on those video tapes then holy shit. I mean...if Katie or Kristi ever watched them then what the f**k? How the hell were they not aware of what was going on in their adult lives in the previous two films? If I saw family videos with even half the crap that was on these I would literally shit my pants and run far far away from my family and never speak to them again. The only thing that can make any sort of sense is that neither Katie or Kristi have ever watched AN ENTIRE BOX full of these home videos...ever. If you want to argue the point of maybe what we see wasn't all in that box of tapes then I would ask why the hell were they even mentioned then? Why didn't the film just start back in 1988 without the introduction to the tapes? I am sure that whatever happened to them will be explained in PA4 but the fact that those tapes exist creates so many problems with the narrative for all three films that it is kind of strange they would even bring them into the picture at all.

Hey look, now its the bed but at night...

Why does this bother me so much? Mainly because both PA1 and PA2 had some pretty solid reasoning behind not just what was going on but also the story (as slight as it is) and the characters acting as they did. This new piece to the puzzle adds something into the mix that just seems to be lazy compared to those other two films. They needed a device to get us back to 1988 and that's it, no explanation needed...and that isn't good enough. It's also frustrating because PA3 as a film works much better in my opinion than the last two simply because it just felt like more was happening this time around. There weren't quite as many moments of just sitting around waiting for something to happen.

Don't get your hopes up too much though, the primary point of view is still and always shall be the video camera. As already mentioned, the first film was mostly hand held camera style and the second was mostly through security cams, PA3 is a sort of combination of both. Given the year it takes place in the filmmakers had to make due with the technology of that time, hence giant hand held cameras that can only hold one 6 hour VHS tape. The time on each tape is mentioned but it never plays into the proceedings, I kept waiting for something to happen where the tape would suddenly end but apparently these tapes go much longer than 6 hours. There is some new ground broke here though and we get something that has not appeared in either of the other two oscillating camera! That's right, the camera can now move from side to side and with this new found mobility comes some of the films better scares and creepier moments.

See anything different this time....?

That's right, I haven't mentioned that at all yet. Despite my insensate bitching and moaning about things nobody but me really cares about, this movie is pretty f**king scary at times. The earlier moments are your usual build up where we meet the family and get to see the early stages of the paranormal activity before it goes ape shit on them. With that comes your now typical stationary shots of multiple rooms of the house as you sit there and try to spot the strange occurrences taking place. As tired an approach as that is it still works remarkably well in building up the tension in the audience. My sold out crowd would audibly adjust in their seats and groan with anticipation each time a new night would start. It is that jump scare that you dread, you know that the harder you look the easier it is for it to get you and even though you want to look away so badly it hurts you just can't bring yourself to do it.

Say what you will about a lack of innovation, lack of story, lack of character and lack of logic, these movies know how to manipulate its audience like almost no other movie I have ever seen. It is expected to work on one level and one level only, to scare the shit out of you and it doesn't disappoint. PA3 takes it a step further than the previous two films though and punches the intensity up a couple notches. The one stand out scene that really had me gritting my teeth was the Bloody Mary scene in the bathroom (which plays out completely differently than seen in the original trailer for the film by the way). It was the first time in any of the films where I actually felt frightened. The set up was great but what really got me was the length of the scene and the constant build up and release that was happening. Just when you think you're off the hook it reels you back in. It is an exhausting sequence that was played out to perfection.

Who is she talking to...?

Of course most people are going to be talking about those final fifteen minutes of the movie where everything is explained and answers are given (to all 3 films). Unfortunately I thought the final moments of the film were its least effective. Once you know what is going on and you realize what is going to happen (which I did well before it happened) then a lot of that tension is lost. Don't get me wrong though, there were some pretty jarring images and plenty of disturbing situations but it all felt a little rushed to me. The funny thing is that this is in complete contrast to how I felt about the second film where with that one I thought the last fifteen minutes was the best part and the rest of the film was lacking in scares. I don't want to give the wrong impression here though, I thought from beginning to end that this was the most complete and scare inducing entry into the series yet. I can almost guarantee that as you walk out of that theater and return home to a dark house that you will be looking over your shoulder a number of times.

Recommending this movie goes against all my instincts when comparing it to what I believe a movie should be. It holds absolutely no redeeming values beyond its basic surface level scare tactics. But the mere fact that it does what it does so damned well means I can't say avoid it either. If you want to cower in your theater seat and grab hold of a loved one while watching a family get terrorized then I can't imagine you being disappointed in PA3. It will scare the shit out of you and you will love every minute of it. My only advice to you is that you see this with a crowd. It has been my experience that movies like this work best with a full theater of hapless victims and if you are looking to have one of the better movie theater experiences this year then get out there with everyone else and...




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