Monday, October 24, 2011

Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)

The big question on my mind going into the movie was: will Paranormal Activity 3 live up to the precedent set by the first two entries in this film series? To get myself in the mood beforehand, I pulled up my reviews of Paranormal Activity and Paranormal Activity 2 for a read-through. At the risk of sounding immodest, both of those reviews are really good, and probably two of the best reviews I've ever written. So in addition to hoping PA3 would live up to to its predecessors, I had the additional pressure of writing a review of it that would do its predecessors justice.

For better or worse, the pressure is off. I can say two things about Paranormal Activity 3. It was a good, scary, fun movie. Yet it didn't feel quite as satisfying as the previous two Paranormal Activities. And I may be able to guess at the reasons, but I can't quite put my finger on exactly why that is. Though the scares are still effective in the same way they've always been, perhaps the edge has been blunted and the novelty worn off. Then again, I can't rule out the possibility that something in the way the story itself was put together missed the mark in a subtle but significant way.

Perhaps it's that Paranormal Activity has become more of a phenomenon than an experience. As before, audience reactions in the theater were uncharacteristically (judging by the standards of your average movie experience) enthusiastic. But though there were lots of screams, I've become more skeptical than ever that they were genuine. It's very possible that these people were genuinely scared, but it seems to me that PA has become that movie that comes out around Halloween that you go to with your friends to have a good time and scream your head off. I mean, the advertisements certainly butter you up to the point that anything less than audience hysteria would be a letdown. And also in addition to that, while there were a lot of funny scenes in PA3 (more, I think, than in the previous titles), there was perhaps more laughing (and a little bit of talking) than was probably appropriate.

And the movie itself? Let's talk spoilers.

PA3 is a prequel. It fleshes out Katie (from the first one)'s initial encounter with the demonic spirit that haunts her, during her childhood. It's her sister who has taken this spirit on (in time-worn cliche fashion) as an apparently imaginary friend named Toby. But we know he's much more than that. In the hyped-up climax to the film (which threw me off because I was expecting a house fire that the movie never delivered), we discover that Katie's grandmother is a member of a witches' coven who has, apparently, summoned this demonic spirit upon the family, and it has chosen Katie's sister to be its "bride", ostensibly for the purpose of producing a male child (judging from the explanation we got in PA2 - though for what reason I don't know or recall) - though not in the exciting way; it appears the demon is content to wait it out, perhaps because his own "seed" is not compatible with humans.

Frankly, I think the imaginary friend thing - as creepy as the concept of a child befriending a ghost is (it's been done better in differently styled films) - kind of endears the demon to the family in a way that, while it's still a frightening and clearly dangerous entity, makes it slightly less of an unknown threat. Moreover - and I'm not alone in thinking this - the addition of the witches' coven subplot, while a fun theme to play with, seems to lessen the demon's impact even further, almost lowering it to the level of a pet (albeit a supernatural and deadly one) at the beck and call of very human (if magickal) owners.

Spoilers begone! I cast you out!

If you ask me, it seems like we're getting more exposition to fill out the story (though with as many new questions as answers). And you know what? It makes for a fuller story. We get lots of humor, and lots of action, and it begins to feel a little bit more like all the other (scary) movies that are out there. Paranormal Activity was effective because it was so unique. Paranormal Activity 2 built upon that. PA3 builds further, and while I can't say that the progress it makes is a bad thing (I think the use of PA-type scares in more mainstream movies could be a very fruitful partnership), it has the side effect of making it feel less special, less groundbreaking, and while still quite scary, less spine-tinglingly terrifying.

At least while watching it. As the scenes flood back into memory as I sit here writing this, the fear is amplified, and I remember how I felt after the first two Paranormal Activities, and I become afraid to go to bed and shut off the lights. If PA3 falls short of its goals, confusing as much as it explains (a situation exacerbated by the intentionally misleading trailer), it still remains an effective entry in the series. And it would seem that there is nothing stopping the studio from continuing that series for at least another year, if not longer. I am very excited to see both more films in this vein, as well as to explore further the increasingly convoluted and inconsistent plot of this series. I only hope that the series doesn't (continue to?) suffer from profit-inspired degradation.


  1. You scooped me! :D

    I plan on rewatching the first films and most likely going to see PA3 again before dropping the book down on what has become my favorite film series... but so far I agree with you completely.

    You sum up my feelings when you said "it begins to feel a little bit more like all the other (scary) movies that are out there." If Paranormal Activity is going to get generic, the least they could do is get 'found footage generic,' and start copying Blair Witch or [Rec]. (And don't say they were copying BW with the witchy Grandma, the key in BW is we never see the witch. :p )

    I remember how we stayed up all night talking after PA2, ostensibly absorbed in such a great film but also a little bit afraid to go to bed! I can say I slept like a baby after PA3.

    There are important things alluded to in the first two films that the third did not touch on at all (like your aforementioned house fire). I'm hoping this is because those events are planned for a future movie, but it could also mean they simply didn't consider them important to include. As for the witch angle, "jump the shark" represents the epitome of that whole concept.

    But needless to say... I will stick with the series and see where it goes. Perhaps flubbing up Paranormal Activity 3 is the filmmaker's way of initiating it into the great horror tradition, alongside all the other classic series. As Christopher Nolan (mastermind behind the new Batman series) recently said, "how many good third films are there?"

  2. Yeah, but it doesn't set a good precedent for that other great modern series that had a great sequel - 28 Days/Weeks Later - of which I'm still hopeful. Then again, even Alien 3 wasn't up to the standards of the first two movies in the series.

    I don't know if this is true, but I was reading some comments on IMDb, and they said that in the first (or second?) movie, Katie said that there was an incident in her childhood, and another one when she was 14. If that is true, then maybe PA4 will cover that intermediate haunting.

  3. I'm hoping P4 will cover that stuff. Also the ouija board incident referenced in PA1, and the house fire.... Have you seen the people saying the house fire was shown in the trailers for PA3? A LOT of people are saying that, it seems. O.O Some say PA3 will have an extended cut, but they'd need to extend it about an hour for it to include all of these missing scenes.

    Y'know, started watch PA2 today and I can understand what you mean by being interested in the story and the mythology of the series. First thing that happens in PA2 is someone breaks in and wrecks up the place. I'd rather it be the demon, but it'd seem it was the same people who did it in PA3. So honestly I'm really curious who it was and why. Unless the break in from PA2 and PA3 were the same one? That'd feel retconny since in 2 they say nothing was taken...

    In any case I think it IS an interesting story with this mythology and everything, and I'm intrigued to learn more about it. However I still don't think that's the type of film that PA is or should be, particularly considering I don't think that TYPE of story-telling has anything to do with what makes PA popular, let alone unique.

  4. Yeah, I wasn't surprised that they mixed up the scenes in the trailer vs. the movie, because I'm sure they wanted to keep the scares fresh. Like how they include a Bloody Mary scene, but it turns out differently. I didn't pay much attention to the trailers (because I didn't really want to be spoiled), but if there was that much in it that didn't turn up in the movie, then there's definitely something fishy there.

    Here's an interesting idea - record multiple cuts of the same movie, with different scares, and then screen them randomly. Different people would get different scares, and if you go to see the movie more than once, you never know what's going to happen next!

    Unfortunately, though, the case seems to be that the filmmakers were just trying to piss off the fans, not do anything revolutionary (which is why PA3 fails to the extent that it did, compared to the extent to which the first PA succeeded).

    I think it was the same break-in. And yeah, it was probably a retcon.

    Perhaps, like I was saying before, they should have taken the idea of Paranormal Activity, and started a different film series, or series of films with it. Because I could lean both ways - taking PA in new directions, as well as sticking to the formula that made it so special.

  5. Someone could check the dates, see if it was the same break in or not. The thing is, it makes sense that it's not the demon, because the demon spends the whole rest of the movie BUILDING UP to big actions, but then the first thing he's going to do is wreck up the entire house? It actually makes more sense for it to be a genuine break in. But if they retconned it with the tapes thing then that's just a damn shame for a series as well written (until now).

    Paranormal Activity 1 had various endings.... I think she gets killed by the cops in one of them. So different cuts of the movie is not out of the question...

    I don't mind if they want to bring it into new directions but the sad thing is it affects how I view the events of the earlier movies... Your new series idea would be a good one.