Paranormal Activity 3 Review

Is that a barrel we hear being scraped or is PA3 actually quite good?

Following in almost exactly the same low-key footsteps trod by the previous two instalments, Paranormal Activity 3 by all rights shouldn’t work. To its credit though, however lazy you feel it may be, it’ll still get fans twitching anxiously at any noise in the night after viewing it, largely down to the fact that its scares and chills are built around what is inherently normal and by sticking to an always effective horror tradition: don’t show the monster. The anticipation is always worse than the pay-off and during its brief running time, Paranormal Activity 3 packs in enough sequences filled with almost unbearable tension which ensures that even though we get a serious sense of déjà-vu, we can’t help but react; after all, someone watching you sleeping is always going to be creepy.

Like the sequel, Paranormal Activity 3 doesn’t choose to follow on from the events of the previous film, instead taking us back to 1988 and the childhoods of the unfortunate sisters Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown). Things start going awry even before Kristi decides to befriend the seemingly imaginary Toby, so stepfather Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) decides to set up cameras around the house to find out what’s really making that bump in the night.

Paranormal Activity has always worked because of its use of a static camera during the night-time sequences, ensuring you’re constantly on edge, desperately trying to peek around the corner of the frame to see what’s coming. 3 is no different but Catfish duo Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman introduce the brilliant use of an oscillating camera to add that extra ‘did I just see that?’ edge to certain sequences. If anything, this technique isn’t fully explored (its one main shock sight turns out to be a gag) but, due also to the lack of incidental music signposting disturbances, you’ll find yourself constantly wondering whether what you just saw, was originally in the frame last time the camera panned to it.

While one of the main annoyances for some viewers centres on just why would someone film as much as they do – this film’s tenuous link is that Dennis is a wedding videographer – but the film’s climax wouldn’t have been half as effective utilising just the static camera. The fun comes from the unexpected so to say too much would spoil its impact; it’s safe to say though that the sustained events leading up to the money shots are among the most nerve-wracking of the series. The climax is only really spoiled by the fact that it offers up an explanation, without really explaining it. We’re all for ambiguity, but to leave an audience with just a sense of ‘is that it?’ really isn’t the strongest you could be leaving them with.

Keeping in with the franchise’s formula as well, the cast all deliver naturalistic performances – kudos especially to the two youngsters – which helps enhance the normality of it all, although this is where the formula is wearing a bit thin. Sticking a bit closely to stereotypes, it requires the film to follow the same pattern – one person believes in the spirit, another is apprehensive yet turns believer at the end – and, not helped also by the fact that it’s a prequel, there’s no real sense of plot surprise; instead, we’re just waiting for the next night-time scare leading to a disjointed viewing experience that does, at times, make it feel a lot longer than its 85 minutes.

Still, for all the faults linked to following a similar structure and style, Paranormal Activity 3 should be applauded for refusing to one-up itself (unlike the most recent annual Halloween horror franchise), keeping everything low-key and managing to stay effectively chilling despite its familiarity. With the back-story pretty much mined hollow now – a repeat viewing of the sequel should help you fit most of it together – it’ll be interesting to see where the franchise goes from here, presuming it strikes gold at the box office. For now though, it might not persuade any neutrals or detractors of the previous two, but this threequel delivers enough jolts and chills to provide fans with a satisfying pre-Halloween fix.

Ian Sandwell

Updated: Oct 21, 2011

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