Paranormal Activity 3 Review: The Horror Equivalent To Being Wined And Dined – Whatever The Hell That Means

Yell! Magazine’s review of Paranormal Activity 3:

By now, the Paranormal Activity franchise may have worn out its welcome for those who’ve followed the series since its humble beginnings. The novelty of scaring with less and driving home the art of suspense seems to be losing its luster, and some are beginning to roll their eyes in disillusioned apathy.

But not me — no sir. You see, I’ve completely skipped the first two installments, and dove headfirst into the second sequel. Being the insipid D-bag that I am, I have purposely not done my homework, and walked into Paranormal Activity 3 with light steps and the bright eyes of a 5-year-old boy on his first day of school.

And man, dear reader, did I ever soil my shorts.

But would I watch it twice, or even feel compelled to watch the first two? In a word, nein. Why would I? Why would anyone except the most die-hard fans? Paranormal Activity is interesting as an experiment in building tension, but has very little to offer, otherwise. Though, yes, it does serve as a prequel and kind of explains the backstory behind the first and second films, the question still remains as to whether or not there lies that much appeal to a story that serves as a justification for producing these suspense factories.

Although the preceding paragraph summed things up quite nicely, the higher-ups have threatened to put me “inside the cube” if I do not elaborate any further.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s get elaborating!

Julie (Lauren Bittner) has just married her new boyfriend, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) and has brought him into a wonderful, loving family spotted by two potentially possessed daughters, Katie (Katie Featherston) and Kristi (Sprague Grayden). Things are good at first — Dennis is a bit of a dork, but his status as a wedding photographer is remarkably convenient. One day, when reviewing a crudely made sex tape, Dennis spots something out of the ordinary — a little too out of the ordinary.

It’s Toby. Toby the ghost.

Fright Night hits us with a vampire named Jerry, and now we’re being haunted by a ghost named Toby.

Anywho, Dennis hooks up cameras around the house in an effort to catch a glimpse of Toby on film. With time, this invisible apparition starts messing with solid objects, Julie refuses to believe her husband’s assertions that the house is haunted, and things eventually go the same quietly terrifying route as the first two — with a neat twist at the end that ties things up nicely.

Paranormal Activity 3 picture
They're cute when they're small — until they grow up and get all moody and possessed.

Of course, none of this really matters because the true quality behind Paranormal Activity lays in its ability to scare us with practically nothing.

And that’s no exaggeration at all — much like Final Destination, the truth behind anything aimed at making your heart burst out of your chest is that it has to be able to build suspense. You need to be in that happy middle of wanting to cover your eyes, but also not being able to tear them from the screen. Something’s definitely about to go down and the anticipation alone is enough to make you squeeze the hand of whatever poor stranger is sitting next to you.

But unlike the previously mentioned gorefest, in this case, things play out through an extremely delicate manipulation. It’s one thing to suddenly mute the soundtrack for a couple seconds, and then throw some kind of ghastly ghoul up on the screen to scare away the kiddies, but it’s a completely separate thing entirely to soak three-quarters of your film in that same feeling of “pre-jump scare anxiety.” Paranormal Activity does this very well, and is only accentuated by the extra degree of realism brought forth by its style of being shot on home video.

Nothing horrifically gruesome is shoved in your face. No disturbing disembowelments or handy vivisections — just pure, undiluted ambience. It’s about refinement, in this case; playing the right notes, but not playing them to the point of tedium — the right spooks at the right times. It truly makes for a gourmet horror flick.

Things go quiet, and the hair on the back of your neck stands up. In one case, you could say, “Yeah, something’s going to go down. Here comes a jump scare.” And yes, that feeling pretty much comprises the whole of the film, but it’s the uncertainty that gets you. It’s literally the moments before or between the scares that are the most intense, and being able to feel that — well, it’s hard not to like.

Paranormal Activity 3 picture
Remember this stimulating, yet disappointingly anti-climactic scene from the trailer? It's totally not in the movie.

But, the most impressive aspect is in how we’re given only about three specific shots and angles: The master bedroom, the girl’s shared bedroom, and the kitchen. As things progress, you grow increasingly accustomed to the separate rooms, and so when something strange happens, it feels all the more alien. It’s worth mentioning, though, that it’s in the kitchen that we witness an ingenious usage of screen space. While the scene plays out, the camera slowly pans back and forth, and you never know what the hell could be happening on the other side. You grit your teeth, void your bowels, and pray to your god of choice that something happens soon, because you just can’t take it no’ mo’.

Then you come to a realization, with the exception of a few scenes after the 40 minute mark, you’re being scared by what amounts to absolutely nothing. A period of silence is punctuated by a swinging chandelier, but it’s framed in a way to be more chilling than anything else that’s been shoved in your face this season. With time, you begin to understand that it’s you who’s scaring yourself, nothing more than a puppet hoisted by its own petard.

And then you feel the next scare coming, and despite your new enlightenment, you’re still very, very uncomfortable.

So that, I believe, speaks volumes with as to how silence can sometimes be more frightening than anything conceivable. Paranormal Activity sells itself based only around the practice of jerking you around like a pre-schooler thrown back and forth between a mass of gorillas. You know something’s going to jump out at you — it doesn’t take a genius to figure it out — and if you’ve got a decent understanding of how your own body works, then you can physically stop yourself from jumping, but in the end, it won’t even matter. You’ll be at the mercy of your own autonomic nervous system. And nothing can save you from that.

The Verdict: [rating:3.5]

As a standalone film, there’s no doubt that it works, and is definitely the film to see, this Halloween. If you’ve seen the originals, then expecting to be scared by something you’ve seen before might be an exercise in futility. If, however, you have not, then either watch the first Paranormal Activity, or see part three in theaters. It won’t disappoint, and you’ll find yourself suffocated by your own anxiety. In a time where the biggest budgets try to take first place, and a high body count bordered by buckets of fake blood is the scariest thing imaginable, Paranormal Activity will always stand with a timeless quality of its own. Whether it be this year, or a decade from today, Paranormal Activity will never cease to be real f’ing spooky.

Paranormal Activity 3 poster
Yell! Rating (x/5 Skulls):
Year Released:
21 October 2011
Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown, Katie Featherston, Sprague Grayden, Lauren Bittner, Jessica Tyler Brown, Brian Boland, and Christopher Nicholas Smith
Official URL:
Paranormal Activity 3 official

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