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Paranormal Activity 3

Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Cast: Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown, Christopher Nicholas Smith

(Blumhouse Productions, Paramount Pictures, Room 101; US DVD: 24 Jan 2012)

Usually by the time you reach the third part of a horror franchise, things have gotten a lot less scary. Even if the series started off well, things inevitably take a dive. Alien 3, Scream 3, and Saw 3 were all unrecognizable imitations of their respective (and respected) originals. OK, I’m just kidding about Saw 3. Every one of those movies was terrible.

So what about Paranormal Activity 3, the latest in independent-producer-turned-Hollywood-mogul Ariel Schulman’s spooky horror franchise that’s taken the world by storm? Both in story and in quality, not much changed. It maintains its predecessors’ standing while creating plenty of fresh frights for fans. If you were pleased with your viewing experience the first few times, you know, in that odd way horror fans “enjoy” entertainment that freaks them the hell out, you will be again. Absolutely.

But, if you’re like me, you thought the first few were merely adequate collections of frightening scenes. The one edge they have over #3, though, is that they were complete movies. The first, though less frightening than its sequels, was a sincere attempt at independent filmmaking with some truly innovative techniques and tricks (without the bedroom cam, we would never have Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin’s Oscar night spoof). The second felt a little bit like an optional sidebar instead of a true progression from the original.

Yet both of these films and their flaws are more impacting because they have true finalés. The nail-biter endings were memorable, spooky, and truly wrapped up the plots. Paranormal Activity 3 has no ending – it’s a blatant attempt to prolong the franchise by stringing us along to another haunted house story. Yes, it’s scary. They throw a lot of stuff at you in those final ten minutes (literally and figuratively, just like in numbers one and two), but it came as a shock when the credits started rolling.

“What happens next?” has become a popular question at the end of recent franchises. Some movies are up front about being only half a whole, like The Matrix: Reloaded and Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1. In movies like these, the split is necessary simply because audiences don’t want to sit through a four hour picture. It’s easier on everyone to break it up.

With movies like Paranormal Activity 3, though, this method is exploitative. We were sold a feature length movie, and instead we got an 83-minute preview for Paranormal Activity 4. Frankly, it’s bullshit, and this time, almost all of us are responsible. Most of the critical reviews were positive, and the box office was huge. Even if you feel the frights before the close, how did people not warn their friends that this was merely two-thirds of a film?

I don’t expect purely negative reaction from everyone seeing the film. This isn’t War Horse (seriously – how do people defend that film?). After all, there’s plenty to “enjoy”. Like its predecessors, Paranormal Activity 3 delivers plenty of chilling images. From Kristi Rey walking along the railing of her upstairs bedroom to her mysterious conversations with Toby, directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (who both did the kind of spooky, kind of stupid Catfish “documentary”) crafted some truly original creep-outs. I can’t even look at an oscillating fan anymore without getting goose bumps.

Yet, after the movie ends, there’s not much left lingering in your brain other than questions. Without giving anything away, let me just say there are plenty, and the Blu-ray release does little in the way of answering them. The two included special features are both designed to make the buyer think they’ll get the answers that hey didn’t get in the feature film. First up is the extended cut of the movie, which adds a substantial amount of minutes (ten) without contributing anything vital to the story. The second extra is labeled “The Lost Tapes”, another intentionally misleading title. Unless you were wondering what Dennis’ (the dad) commercial would look like or how he scared his wife on camera, these three minutes (!) will disappoint (though they are kind of funny).

Paranormal Activity 3 did its job. It scared audiences enough to sell tickets to the next one. I just wish its filmmakers trusted us enough to want to go back for more instead of forcing us.


Extras rating:

Ben Travers is an awards season analyst and prognosticator with a devout interest in all things film & TV. Mr. Travers lives in Los Angeles as an experienced writer and filmmaker with an extensive portfolio of coverage, including thorough reporting on the Academy Awards, weekly box office reports, and more reviews written than will ever be read. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa with degrees in both journalism and cinema.

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We're four episodes in and I feel like I don't know any more than I did after the original Paranormal Activity. Enough is enough.
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If the promise is merely to frighten, Paranormal Activity 3 delivers. How it chooses to do so may not be an issue, unless you believe in that clichéd concept of truth in advertising.
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You don't go to horror movies for story. You go for sensation, to be moved. Paranormal Activity 3 not only gets that, it also asks you to get it, to be aware of how you're being moved, and your part in the moving.
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With Award Season in sight, October offers up the last of the should-have-been-summer blockbusters (Real Steel, Anonymous), a few indie darlings (Like Crazy, Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene), and the usual dose of All Hallow's Eve tie-ins (Red State, Paranormal Activity 3).

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