Thanks to 'Paranormal Activity 3': I Can’t Even Look at an Oscillating Fan, Anymore

For a franchise that prides itself on slowly building to a fright-filled finalé, Paranormal Activity 3 comes up short -- but it does leave lasting impressions.

Paranormal Activity 3

Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Cast: Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown, Christopher Nicholas Smith
Length: 83 minutes/93 minutes unrrated
Studio: Blumhouse Productions, Paramount Pictures, Room 101
Year: 2011
Distributor: Paramount
MPAA Rating: R for some violence, language, brief sexuality and drug use
Release date: 2012-01-24

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.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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