It’s hard to imagine that anything new, interesting or exciting could possibly happen in the “Paranormal Activity” series’ third attempt at a decently scary film. The biggest shock in the theater this year wasn’t the overused demon motif or the cheesy, superficial acting. The surprise was the large crowd that flocked to watch the movie.
Despite the overwhelming predictability due to the two previous films, “Paranormal Activity 3” tried its best to stir up a new plot line, setting and cast of characters. The film once again chronicles Katie and Kristi, two sisters with a haunted past and a whole lot of problems, this time flashing back to their family home in 1988. Like many curious and rambunctious children, the two make good company with an invisible friend. Unfortunately, the invisible friend turns out to be an insidious demonic entity whose only agenda is to possess and terrify the family members. The entity, dubbed “Toby” by young Kristi, sets off a series of creepy and mysterious events no one in the household can seem to explain. This, of course, causes their father to take heroic initiative by setting up video cameras to capture the strange encounters on tape and prove to his stubborn wife that something really is wrong.
The lack of plot or character development gave the film a very quick pace that became difficult to follow at times. With a duration of only 80 minutes, the film had to rapidly present audience members with information, themes and characters that were succinct, but hardly explained. Much of the plot could have been elaborated on, and key background details that offered important information to all three of the installments were hardly given any attention at all. As such, the movie lacked resolution, and the most dominate emotion the ending stirred was curiosity. Unless filmmakers are up for a fourth round of the paranormal, some activities will just remain a mystery.
The reoccurring scare tactics used throughout the “Paranormal” trilogy remain fun to watch but have become far too predictable. The infamous “home video” recording technique that gave movies like “The Blair Witch Project” their own moments in the spotlight only served to show audiences what they had already seen numerous times before: ceiling lamps that swing on their own, hanging picture frames that fall for no reason at all and doors that open and slam shut as if by an invisible hand. Allowing moviegoers to always know what to look for and what to expect was a good way for filmmakers to keep everyone’s eyes on the screen but a bad way to keep things spontaneous and fresh.
One interesting twist was the addition of humor in unexpected places. The ‘80’s setting worked particularly well with this idea, serving up numerous glimpses of faded jean jackets, Bill Cosby sweaters, side ponytails and brick-sized telephones amongst an array of demonic spirits and ghostly apparitions. It was hard not to chuckle when the sisters’ parents decided to make a sex tape one blustery evening, only to have the evil entity ruin their sultry plans with a miniature earthquake in their bedroom.
Similarly, another comical scene depicts a teenage babysitter fleeing the scene after her own ghostly encounter and leaving the sleeping sisters alone with the evil entity (it’s the golden rule of babysitting — always leave the children behind if you fear danger). Although at times it was hard to take the movie too seriously — especially after reveling in the missteps of the first two films — it was quite delightful to find that laughter and video footage of realistic demonic possessions can indeed coexist.
Overall, “Paranormal Activities 3” wasn’t too much of a dud. Despite being almost an exact replica of the first two films and leaving little room for the unexpected, the film was consistently suspenseful and didn’t fail to provoke some gasps of horror from the viewers. The movie was far better than the second installment, but still couldn’t beat the freakiness and disbelief of the first.
3.5 stars out of 5