‘Paranormal Activity 3′ Just What Halloween Ordered

By Tim Posada, 10/27/2011


“Paranormal Activity 3” is why Halloween exists. Finally, a horror movie that reminds us why we were once scared to let our feet hang off the edge of the bed. How about those moments we panicked over when something fell in the kitchen at 3 a.m.? “Business as usual” for a franchise is normally the mark of death come the third installment, but this low-budget, blockbuster prequel dishes out a familiar dose of jumps and thrills that’s anything but monotonous.

Chloe Csengery, as young Katie, and Jessica Tyler Brown, as Kristi Rey, star in the prequel, "Paranormal Activity 3". (photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

The strength of “PA3” lies not in special effects but its ability to milk every cinematic moment. A film constructed like a viral video created by a home camcorder has one major advantage: making us guess what lies just beyond the border of the frame. As usual, we never see the paranormal entity in full form, but it’s there, laughing at us as we tilt our heads or move closer to the screen for a clearer look. If every filmgoing experience was like this, I’d never see another film. It’s an exercise in suspenseful discomfort. What’s going to happen next? Don’t know, but keep watching because you never know when something’s about to lunge at you or make a crashing sound off screen. Key moments play right into horror film expectations, while others turn those same conventions back on us.

If you’re into this franchise, then “PA3” has many (not all) of the answers you’ve been waiting for since the first film. But don’t ask anyone; half the fun is the journey — finding out on your own. “PA2” might’ve been scarier, but “PA3” still packs a terrifying punch, and effectively expands on the storyline elaborated on in the second film.

The characters are stock as usual. We’ve got the boyfriend, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith), who can’t help but attempt to visually chronicle the paranormal events occurring in the house (because trying to prove the devil’s existence always turns out OK…right?). Just like the other films, you have to wonder if his actions only anger the unseen antagonist. Next, there’s Julie (Lauren Bitner), mother of young Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi Rey (Jessica Tyler Brown), the sisters portrayed in the prior films. Julie just wants to be a good mother to her children, but the invisible vagrant has different plans for the younglings.

As the rabbit leads further into hell for these characters, we also meet Dennis’ buddy, Randy (Dustin Ingram), who surely believes in God now that he’s witnessed the existence of Satan. We also get one more chance to hang out with the sisters as we once knew them: the older Katie (Katie Featherston) and Kristi Rey (Sprague Grayden). There are a few more faces, but let’s not dwell on details that might give away the end –– and what an end it is.

Like “PA2”, cameras are strategically placed in certain parts of the house — they even create a rather clever device that allows one of them to rotate (not bad for a film set in the ‘80s) — along with a handheld that takes us, the oh-so-vulnerable spectators, straight into the action (even though we secretly pray for the shot to cut, thus signifying brief relief from the ongoing visual tension).

There’s an art to amateur cinematography, and Magdalena Gorka Bonacorso, a Polish cinematographer who’s no stranger to mockumentary-style shooting (doing similar work in another mockumentary, “I’m Still Here”, and several documentary shorts), knows just how intentional “accidental” footage must be. Trust me, you’ll never look at a talking Teddy Ruxpin stuffed animal the same way again after a few unsettling visuals, thanks to Bonacorso.

Fresh off their recent acclaim for the 2010 documentary (or mockumentary, depending on your analysis of the film’s authenticity), “Catfish”, directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman take their knack for the handheld cam to new frightening heights. Sure, some might call “PA3” a step down from what some critics called a modern-day Hitchcockian tale, but let’s just be thankful promising filmmakers still come near the often awful horror genre. Few films bask in the unknown like “PA3”, and for that we must thank the franchise’s latest directing duo.

“PA3” isn’t scary because of what happens; it’s all in what gets left out. What hopefully won’t get left out now is a fourth film (how could they not after setting a new weekend record for the highest grossing horror film). Here’s to “Paranormal Activity 4”; may more of the same be just as delightful.




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