It’s safe to assume that 1999’s cult classic The Blair Witch Project single-handedly invented a new form of horror film narrative for the screen. In the years following The Blair Witch Project many films have attempted to capitalize or compete with the novelty of its grainy, seemingly “found footage” directorial style. After a string of less than impactful copy cats, 2009 introduced audiences to the sleeper hit Paranormal Activity, a film that regardless of personal judgment, emulates the simple and personal narrative and aesthetic of The Blair Witch Project yet takes it a level further. But much like most successful films, Paranormal Activity has spun into a franchise with its third installment being an interesting and at times pretty impressive horror film.
I admit I’ve never seen Paranormal Activity in its entirety. Although I am a hardcore horror film fan, I’ve only seen the last 30 minutes while waiting for Black Dynamite to start in the theater next to me. Yet in those last 30 minutes I was pleasantly surprised by the chills Paranormal Activity sent up my spine. Despite the film’s effect, the thought of a sequel never interested me and I skipped through the 2nd one yet somehow maintained enough interest to see the prequel of the story in Paranormal Activity 3.
Its 2005, a year before the events that take place to Katie (Katie Featherston) and her partner Dan in the first film, Katie’s sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden) stops by to drop off a box of tapes to the couple. The tapes reveal the events that take place over a span of weeks to Katie, Kristi, their mother Julie (Lauren Bitter) and her boyfriend Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) in 1988 when they endure the wrath of a demonic being in their home. Dennis, a wedding videographer, becomes obsessed with finding out the truth of the strange goings-on’s in the home that begins when Kristi makes a new imaginary friend, Toby. Dennis sets up a series of surveillance cameras revealing a presence that longs for chaos and the destruction of the two girls.
Paranormal Activity 3 uses many of the same elements used by the original to capture and create a creepy atmosphere. Its focus is on the aspect of waiting for results and action as much of the film involves watching a room for minutes at a time until a shadow crosses or a door slightly closes when no one is around. However, unlike its predecessors, Paranormal Activity 3 is heavy on the action and visuals as much of the film impressively shows the horrifying rage of the demon haunting the family’s home. The majority of the audience I saw the film with responded to the frequent jump scenes with loud shrieks and shocked profanity, although most of them were 14 year olds. Dennis’ profession allows for more revealing and intriguing camera angles as he records the events in the home. His most impressive gadget being a makeshift stedicam mounted on top of a broken oscillating fan that captures the demonic shenanigans of both the kitchen and living room. The slow back and forth pan of the camera creates a heightened sense of urgency to see what’s happening off screen and makes viewers almost involuntarily move to the edge of their seats.
When are they going to make a horror film based on reactions alone?
While the ability to create a menacing mood through engaging camera movements and shocking scenes works well, much of the film falls apart due to its development. Paranormal Activity 3’s major weakness is its inability to tell a coherent and developed story. While the shocks and scares are definitely prevalent within the film, it’s reasoning for certain actions and explanation of the action being filmed is copped out of by simply never legitimately explaining what exactly is going on and why. Themes of mysticism, witchcraft and devil worship are brought up in the film but no final answer is ever given. Also, neither a comprehensive origin of the ghost or a reason for its anger as well as how it ties into a major plot twist that appears in the last few minutes of the film is to be found.
Something about two brunette kid sisters is terrifying enough.
Paranormal Activity 3 also suffers because of the mere fact that it’s been done. There’s nothing special about it if you’ve seen the first two or any similar film made in the past 10 years. Most of the film’s scariest moments have the potential to make genuine horror film fanatics roll their eyes in annoyance at its predictability. It’s almost expected that every time someone gets in front of the camera to move it or address it, something creepy will happen the minute they walk away. By the time the film ends, I could have sworn I’d seen it before only because I had.
Thanks a lot The Blair Witch Project for making video cameras so damn creepy.
Despite its overly familiar aesthetic and narrative, Paranormal Activity 3 is actually an impressive horror film that uses great special effects, some original ideas, and selective capturing to deliver spine tingling moments of horror. There are even a few images that may get stuck in your head and give you squeamish thoughts. I’ll admit that after seeing it and as night fell, engulfing my room in darkness, I kept my bedroom light on a little longer and held my pillow a bit tighter.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time the scare is a joke “got you” moment.
Take a Drink: every time you jump and try to play it off like you didn’t.
Take a Shot: every time you scream.
Take a Shot: every time you notice how uncomfortable public fear makes you/your peers and everyone awkwardly laughs after a scary moment.