Paranormal Activity 3

By Kathryn Schroeder
Released: October 21, 2011
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A wedding videographer places cameras throughout his home to uncover the source of late-night noises that are disturbing his family.
Film Review
A person's life is full of firsts. The first time you ride a bike, or jump off a swing. Your first date, and the inevitable first kiss. There is even the first time you feel butterflies in your stomach, and blame fate for the good, or bad, thing that has just happened to you. For movie critics, and viewers, the types of firsts you experience are a tad different. There is the first time you cry watching a film. There is the first time you jump out of your seat in terror during a horror movie--and everyone remembers the first horror movie that gave them nightmares. I myself have never felt the same way about clowns after seeing Poltergeist, and later the Stephen King adaptation of It. There are also the more sentimental movie firsts, like the first time the boy and/or girl you liked held your hand, or put their arm around you. Firsts are a great thing, and for me I experienced a first like no other on Tuesday, October 18th, 2011...I saw my "first" Paranormal Activity movie. I am quite happy to say I was not alone, and not alone in the sense of a theatre packed full of other moviegoers. I was fortunate enough to be with a lovely friend of mine who was kind enough to lend me his shoulder when I wanted to shield my eyes from the screen, and laugh with me throughout the movie at just how scared I, a grown woman who knows things do not go bump in the night and there are not demons living in my closet or under the bed, was for the duration of the film.

Paranormal Activity 3 is a prequel to the first film in the series. Recurring character Katie (Katie Featherston) shows up in the beginning, as an adult, as does her sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden). They discover some of their grandmother's old VHS tapes from when they were kids and decide to watch them. Who would't want to watch Katie's childhood birthday party? Well, these tapes do have her birthday party on them but some have been taped over to show something very different. The girls mother dated a wedding videographer when they were young, and after strange noises kept occurring around the house he set up cameras to try and see what was happening. Using the tapes in chronological order to tell the story we never return to the grown-up versions of Katie and Kristi for their reactions. The story remains with what is on the tapes in the past, and that is plenty.

The tapes cover around two weeks of nights in the house, as well as the day-to-day of the family. As videographer Dennis, the boyfriend, begins seeing things on the tapes when he watches them the morning after a mystery is established. He fully believes a ghost exists, and that Katie speaks to him, as well as that the ghost may be part of an ancient cult. Oh my! The seriousness of Dennis' findings can be ignored, what you want is to see more of the creepy footage. But the addition of his character, as well as his assistant, makes Paranormal Activity 3 a great deal more enjoyable. You laugh when Dennis reacts to things he sees, and get excited when he discovers something new. Dennis is a great character, a regular Joe who is set upon solving a mysterious case to protect his family. His assistant Randy only makes everything more funny. Randy has the unfortunate circumstance of watching Kristi when she wants to play "Bloody Mary" in the bathroom. The "Bloody Mary" game is by far the most frightening children's game EVER. Paranormal Activity 3 does it justice, by making it scary as hell and also incredibly funny, thanks to Randy. The film slowly builds up to the final encounter with the ghost Toby--and I cannot reveal exactly what that includes. I can say I am never going to the city of Moorpark, California for any reason whatsoever--bad things happen there (I kid, of course).

As a newbie to the Paranormal Activity movies I may be experiencing the initial shock that viewers felt with the first film. For fans of the series I cannot imagine this third installment will not please them. For newbies it is sure to evoke every fear you have ever had of the dark. I was able to sleep last night with the lights off...but looking in the mirror is still a bit of a challenge because you never know what you will see standing behind you.
Scary Factor
Paranormal Activity 3 is the third installment, obviously, in the Paranormal Activity franchise. The first film of the series was an incredibly small independent film that a big studio, Paramount Pictures, took a chance on distributing after audience reactions were off-the-charts with horror. People were afraid, and everyone wanted to know exactly why. We don't see very many horror movies anymore that literally scare you into not sleeping through the night after you watch them. The first Paranormal Activity did just that to many, including FilmFracture's very own writer Russell Espinosa (his review). I myself have avoided the films completely on purpose because the trailers alone scare me. I also had absolutely no intent on seeing the newest one until the opportunity presented itself and I guess I was feeling brave so I said yes, I'll go and watch it. I prefer horror movies of the slasher type, the man on the loose with a machete who is chasing down a group of kids in the woods while a perfectly timed score hints at his arrival, and the impending death of a character. I am not a fan of the found footage horror film, like Paranormal Activity 3.

What I found with Paranormal Activity 3 is it is all about the anticipation of what MAY happen, not exactly what does happen. There is no blood and guts, or any real action surrounding the hauntings in the home. Things do happen, and in this one young Katie talks to the ghost as he is her "imaginary friend" Toby. But the fear the film awakens inside of you is from the waiting, the slow and painful waiting for what can, may, or is going to happen. The only angle on the action is what is seen on camera, and the still camera set-ups in the bedrooms make it incredibly difficult to not be scared since there is no movement. You watch, staring into a dark bedroom of sleeping children or an adult couple, and wait. You will see something move in the corner, or did it? You will notice a light go and off--is that the ghost or one of the children, or an adult? The urge to cover your eyes is unavoidable, but the problem with that is Paranormal Activity 3 knows you are going to try that trick. It will not work, unless you plan on covering them for minutes at a time, and we all know you have to peak at some point. The film purposefully teases you into thinking this is the night something is going to happen, and nothing does. You never know when you will jump out of your seat in terror, and the suspense puts you on edge.

There is one device that really takes Paranormal Activity over the edge with the scariness. The home the family lives in has an open floorplan on the first floor, between the living room and kitchen. The large space makes it impossible for the camera to capture both rooms. The solution boyfriend and videographer Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) concocts is to use the base of a fan that will move the camera back and forth between rooms. The pan effect works wonders on heightening the suspense. One minute you see the kitchen, the next the living room/dining area--but what is happening in the other room during the seconds it takes for the camera to pan back there? You have no idea until it shows you again, and it is quite frightening because your mind comes up with all sorts of scenarios.

Paranormal Activity 3 is a movie of cheap thrills born out of the viewer's conscience over what they imagine could happen, and will happen, to this unsuspecting family. The film preys upon your fear of the dark, and the unknown. It uses children to heighten the horror of such events, locking one in a closet with the ghost just to get you upset, or having the ghost creep up under the covers. The unknown aspect of the film does change in the final act. Things get more real, in the literal sense, with the revelation that the ghost Toby is not necessarily working alone. Having not seen the first two films I cannot say if this is common; I felt it kind of cheapened the affect. It did make for a good conclusion though, and a shocking one at that. I was also told it worked well given this is a prequel to the first two films and thus set-up the events that occur afterwards. I can honestly say Paranormal Activity 3 had me scared from about ten minutes in to just about the end. If the reaction of the other audiences members is any clue, and especially the two girls sitting behind me, it will have the same result on the majority of viewers.

Release Date
October 21, 2011
MPAA Rating
Running Time
84 minutes
Production Designer