Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
(15) Running time: 84 minutes
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
The very first thing I would like to say about this film before we really get into it is the fact I felt cheated by what was seen in the superb trailers. In fact, pretty much every scene in the trailers which got me excited were not actually in the film, and I was very very disappointed about that, and I wonder if the makers should actually be allowed to advertise so much and then give so little. That said, what we do get in the film more than makes up for what is missed from the trailers promises. What Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman have done here is inject, believe it or not, something very fresh to the paranormal activity formula by using the said formula once more, but beefing it up and adding some real “wow” moments, some moments of pure and adrenalin fuelled fear. Like it or not, it works, I mean it really really works. The film plays much like the previous two and even brings a bit of the Final Destination genre of ‘knowing what is about to happen’ style horror. You know it’s coming, you expect it, you just don’t know when the scare will be delivered, and it is the timing here, above everything else, which makes Paranormal Activity 3 the scariest film of the trilogy.
After going back in time in Paranormal Activity 2, here we head right back to the beginning when Katie (Csengery) and her sister Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) are children and after a brief moment of seeing the Katie we already know digging out some VHS tapes in 2005, we suddenly jump all the way back to 1988 and pick up the story from there. The girls Mother Julie (Brittner) is looking after the girls with her boyfriend Dennis (Smith), he makes wedding video’s for a living, much to the annoyance of Julie’s over protective Mother who feels he has no regular income. Dennis loves his girls and will do anything for them, and eventually decides to set up a two cameras in the large house after seeing something creepy in the bedroom. One night Dennis and Julie decide to film themselves having sex, but an Earthquake disrupts them in a genius scene of tension build up. As they watch the video back they see dust fall from the ceiling in the bedroom and land on what appears to be an invisible figure in the bedroom. With the cameras set up, exactly the same as with the previous films, we are set to sit back and watch as the terror escalates, and escalate it does in a big big way!
Two big issues arise before we get into areas so terrifying you will forget the films two major mistakes. The first mistake is the slow build up, after Insidious proved that horror audiences of todays cinema goer wants shock after shock after shock, your average horror fan may find the build up here a little slow and quite possibly boring. Me, I love slow build up, characterisation and storytelling, and for me, the tension builds superbly, although even this patient horror fan found myself getting a little fidgety at times, but thankfully, for me, the wait paid off! The second massive mistake is the look of the film, it was filmed on VHS cameras in the 1980’s, there was no HD, or of there was it was not widely available. However, the picture here is too crisp, too perfect to look authentic, and the film misses a huge trick. Everything else looks good, the fashion, the setting and the whole surroundings, it all looks very 80’s, but it is just far too crisp a picture, which is a real shame. Again though, as I said, once things start to scary, any flaws are quickly forgotten because suddenly you are drawn into a terrifying ride of one big scare after another. Granted they may have rather long gaps, but when the scares are delivered this good, you kind of need that break to get your nerves back on track!
We soon find out that little Kristi has an imaginary friend called Toby whom she openly speaks to, and once the parents find out, Dennis tries to catch as much on tape as he believes there is more to this than just Kristi’s imagination. Mother Julie, however, wants to dismiss it and does not want Dennis encouraging things. Toby, it appears, lives in a small cupboard in the girls bedroom, and as the film progresses, he becomes ever more real and increasingly violent. I had heard rumours that this film was the most aggressive in the series, and those rumours turned out to be true. There is more physical violence in this movie than in both the first two put together. Characters are pushed, thrown about, lifted by their hair, even elevated and then thrown down the stairs, Hell, someone is even scratched, I loved it, really really loved how violent this film was. It gave the film a real edge, it suddenly became unpredictable and things happen which you just wouldn’t believe. The sound effects are stunning, which is why this film will be best enjoyed at the cinema. An incredibly scary scene see’s Toby make his presence known by literally moving almost every object in a room, first off it is gentle, a loud and intense rumble plays over the speakers and the objects moving gradually get more and more violent and the climax is like nothing you ever expected.
Joost and Schulman’s skill at delivering scares is astonishing, and the added inclusion of a moving camera which is carefully placed on top of a broken fan which moves from left to right, gives the film some of its most tense moments. The camera moves from side to side, each time you don’t know what will be there when it pans back to where you were just looking. Each character delivers believable performances, with the young girls doing a lot better than I thought they would. The storyline is a little weak as the film progresses, with more emphasis on terror than actual realistic responses to what is happening from the doomed family, and the short running time means that when things really kick into gear, a lot of the careful drama which the film could have done with, is lost. However, Paranormal Activity 3, should you have the patience for it, really does deliver some of the finest scares I have seen this year, and I guarantee you will jump at least once. The climax also has some standout moments as we tail off into more mainstream horror territory, with a few scenes (which I will not spoil here) that will really make you want to hit rewind to see exactly how they pulled it off.
However, the climax doesn’t end the film in a way I hoped, and to be honest I actually felt a little cheated by how the film finished and it’s reasons. I have read some complain that it ends too abruptly, but come on, this is found footage, how else would it end? For Me though, the first film will probably always be the best, however, Paranormal Activity 3 beats part 2 hands down, and once I sit down and watch the whole trilogy, part 3 just might become my favourite, only time will tell.