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Movie Review: Paranormal Activity 3
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Paranormal Activity 3 movie posterParanormal Activity 3
Directed by Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Written by Christopher B. Landon, Oren Peli
Starring Lauren Bittner, Chloe Csengery, Christopher Nicholas Smith, Jessica Tyler Brown, Dustin Ingram, Katie Featherston, Sprague Grayden
Release Date: October 21, 2011

It was not surprising that Paranormal Activity was turned into a franchise after the original, which was made on a budget of $15,000, made over $100 million at the box office. What is surprising is that Paranormal Activity 3, despite rehashing the same formula as the first two films, still manages to scare people half to death.

The evil is back. The incorporeal evil has been caught on tape again, and this time it has a name… Toby. That’s right, the malevolent entity haunting the family in the Paranormal Activity series is named Toby. At least, that is, according to Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown), who gives the name to what her sister Katie (Chloe Csengery) thinks is her imaginary friend. Katie and Kristie both learn the hard way that Toby is not imaginary in the first two films, but Paranormal Activity 3 is set in 1988, when the girls are still children living with their mother Julie (Lauren Bittner) and stepdad Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith).

Though it’s a convenient plot point that Dennis is a wedding videographer, and therefore owns several cameras and sophisticated editing equipment, such is the premise behind the box of VHS tapes “compiled” to make the third film. When Dennis and Julie attempt to make a sex tape, they are interrupted by an earthquake. As they flee the room, dust is knocked from the ceiling and appears to fall onto an invisible figure. After reviewing the footage, Dennis decides to setup three cameras inside the house, including one mounted on the base of an oscillating fan. What follows are the events that were alluded to by characters in the first two films.

Being the second prequel, the plot goes deeper into the origins of the activity than the previous films. Though much is still left for the audience to decide for themselves, many new details are revealed.

The “found footage” genre of horror is completely reliant on the perceived authenticity of the footage. Even if supernatural events are being captured, it still has to at least look like it is happening in the real world to real people. Less than stellar performances by the cast can actually add to the realism, while poor special effects generally ruin the whole thing.

Of course the footage looks and sounds much better than 23-year-old VHS tapes could ever possibly produce, but most people are likely willing to forgive this rather than suffer through what that would actually looking like for the sake of authenticity.

Paranormal Activity 3, like the previous films, keeps things relatively simple to avoid risking that believability. However, it is still littered with the same moments of implausible yet conveniently captured footage. While audiences go in accepting the idea that a demon might be stalking a family, they might find it hard to believe anyone would choose to film certain events. At one point, this weakness is inadvertently placed center stage when Dennis’s assistant Randy (Dustin Ingram) is, for some reason, filming Dennis as reviews the previous night’s footage, while Dennis comments that he has 12 hours of footage to go through every day. Randy comments how that is a ridiculous amount of footage to go through every day, yet he continues to film him going through it. Fortunately the audience is not forced to watch an endless loop of Dennis watching himself watching himself watch footage, but it does highlight the fact that several times it makes no sense for someone to be filming. Like the previous films and others in the genre, there are also the annoying moments where where the camera view purports to be the eye of the videographer, being at just the right angle to capture everything relevant.

Viewers know the reason these scenes were captured is because they are are all necessary to tell the story, even if it takes away from the realism. This is why found footage is often a weak method for storytelling. But this film, like the previous ones, relies more on scares than solid storytelling to be entertaining, and the scares it provides are enough to make up for the shortcomings of the narrative.

Overall, the film still manages to instill a sense dread and frequently scares people out of their seats. It would seem that even though the audience really knows what to expect the third time around, the filmmakers have a few tricks up their sleeves to keep them jumping. Though many of the tricks will seem familiar – like the pumping of low bass or high frequency tones through speakers when nothing else is happening – people who found themselves freaked out by the previous films will feel the same way this time around. In fact, Paranormal Activity 3 is scariest one yet. Though it’s unlikely to win over anyone who disliked the previous films, the film manages to maintain the feel that made people lose sleep after seeing the others.

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