The (well late) Sunday Film Review: Paranormal Activity 3
Paranormal Activity 3
Director(s): Henry Joost and Ariel Schuman (2011)
Many many many many moons ago, (16/08/2011 to be exact, I’’ve been writing these reviews no one reads for over two years, holy shit!) I uploaded a review of the first Paranormal Activity film. looking back it’s interesting to see how far I was from the overly long and self-indulgent style of todays reviews……………….. and very little else, brief is an understatement. Anyway, back then I described myself as 50/50 over wanting to watch a sequel, eventually I ponied up and along with a possibly irradiated housemate watched that sequel. In my Paranormal Activity 2 review (which began to show the patented egotistical approach I’m not famous or worshipped as a deity for) I described myself as 20/80 on whether I’d be watching a third one, but what better way to celebrate my eightieth review (awwwwwwwwwwww look at me counting) than by going full circle and reviewing the third instalment in the franchise?…………..A franchise which already has a fourth film out, and a fifth one doing the trailer rounds, and a spin off, and the third instalment was actually doing the cinema rounds while I was uploading my review of the first one, take that social relevance.
Paranormal Activity one happens in the eighties.
Plot Summary finishes
I don’t understand why the film Paranormal Activity 3 exists. I understand why a film called Paranormal Activity 3 exists, the money-dum-dum-da-da-daaa, but the decision making behind this one is such a baffling myriad of bad choices and inconsistencies it’s as if someone put a Liberal Democrat pledge in charge.
The decision to go ‘prequel’ is a straight nonstarter. Why, whenever a franchise runs out of ideas or is universally accepted to have pissed off the fan base (Aliens, Terminator ‘sort of, it was the future but also past if you get me’, James Bond, Batman, The Ring, The Planet of the Apes etc) do they jump on the prequel train like it was the last one leaving the station before a fucking blitzkrieg? I’m not saying delving into the past can’t work, some television series used a characters past to create interesting ‘present day’ storylines, Lost was good at that, before it died and spent three season failing to realise the fact. I just think prequels are just so limiting.
Who cares about prequels? Fan boys, who follows every plot point of a story? Fan boys. Who won’t accept anything half arsed? Fan boys. I’ll use Terminator Salvation as an example, Terminator being a franchise I would call myself a fan boy of, FUCK YOU TERMINATOR 3!
In Salvation there’s a story arc involving John Connor looking for Kyle Rees because he’s heard the machines are after him……I already know Kyle Rees grows up, goes back in time to Terminator 1 and gets laid to the accompaniment of a haunting piano score, so hard as the film tries to convince me otherwise (and Salvation was actually far too preoccupied with thinking motorbikes to try that hard), I already know how the arc the ends. It ends well, so I don’t really care. Paranormal Activity 3 centres around four characters, a mummy, step daddy and two little girls I already know survive, grow up and become the protagonists in the first two films. If I didn’t know that already, I would have after Paranormal Activity 3 chose to spend its first five minutes showing just that. Limiting the possible body count to half the characters does not a tense start make; focusing the ‘plot’ around the two guaranteed survivors isn’t a great continuation either.
But opting for a prequel, stupid as it is, looks like positively sage decision making compared to how Paranormal Activity 3 progresses. Remember the slow stalking Demon of the first Paranormal film? (For this exercise I’m assuming you have seen Paranormal Activity 3 and aren’t the type who would read a review for the third one without seeing the first). Remember how The Demon started small by banging a few pots and going ‘bump’? He seemed almost playful until the characters tried to communicate back. Remember how The Demon took Katie and Micah’s attempts to communicate as a white flag to become more dangerous and obsessive, methodically waging a campaign of psychological torture, unpredictably taking control of people, wounding them, throwing things around and even dragging them out of bed? It was really rather tense. The makers of Paranormal Activity 3 sure seemed to hope you didn’t remember.
Maybe The Demon was still finding itself in the eighties but my non-existent god is it tame. Watch Paranormal 3 if you find the prospect of a malevolent, invisible demon enacting horrors like standing under falling dust, hiding under a bed, closing doors or pulling a little girls hair. He does wound a guy at one point, sort of. In the first film the demon marks grown up Katie’s with a strange bite. This time that bite mark is trumped by giving an unimportant dude a one fingered scratch, maybe that’s what the makers hoped constituted ‘take my money and make eight more’ territory.
In PA3 (see what I did there?) there were twenty or thirty minute periods where I found myself begging for the demon to do something, anything remotely interesting. At one point there was a babysitter primed for the cleaving, ‘yes!’ thought handsome I, a babysitter alone in a house late at night, it doesn’t take a genius to know where this cliché is going.
What do you think our handsome demon friend did?
If you answered ‘blow in her face’ then congratulations, NOBODY WINS.
………………………. Maybe the eighties were a difficult teen period or The Demon did not yet feel comfortable murdering, either way not exactly Michael Myers is it?
I have a feeling I know what happened here. I think the makers of Paranormal Activity 3 (more on them later) saw the third instalment as a chance to make Paranormal Activity a ‘thing’. Instead of figuring out new directions for the franchise to tread, they instead spent their time finding ways to repeat semi-iconic (at best) scenes from the first two films; a subtle ‘bathroom’ joke scene early on, a human scaring another amidst an early Demon sighting, a secondary character encountering the demon and then leaving with dire warnings, a couple’s relationship becoming strained as one obsessively films everything, hoping for a sight of The Demon while the other remains stubbornly sceptical. The first Paranormal Activity has become a blueprint, ‘but the audience expects this stuff’ the makers cry. The result of such ‘sound’ thinking being is the all-purpose Demon of the franchise is reduced to the play thing of the films real villains, old people.
Speaking of the makers; Henry Joost and Ariel Schuman are the directing team behind Catfish, a fascinating documentary about an online relationship built upon a lie, it was an impressive, heartfelt documentary that I thoroughly recommend to everyone, but, and this is one of those big buts I could write as BUTTTTTTTTTTTTTT, I have no idea how that film led to the team getting the Paranormal Activity franchise. Despite the ‘video diary’ premise, Paranormal Activity is to documentary what Rise of the Planet of the Apes was to a wildlife charity plea. Activity is a story; it relies on the audience willingly suspending their disbelief. In real life, as soon as someone caught a clip of a demon terrorising them, they would not stay to film more supernatural behaviour, they would either a) get the hell out of dodge or b) upload the footage to youtube and make millions. Oh wait, it’s the eighties, no youtube, well whatever people did with footage in the dark ages.
Oh yeah, the eighties………
Revolutionary thinking I know, but a neat trick when setting a film in the eighties might be to actually make your film look like it was filmed in the eighties. It’s too bad Henry Joost and Ariel Schuman didn’t realise that. They didn’t even bother putting in effects or filters, they just plumb filmed on digital cameras hidden inside eighties cameras and left the footage as is, so we have a film set in the eighties that looks nothing like the eighties. This decision is baffling to me, Paranormal 3 could have stood out with an eighties style, at the very least it would have given the film some identity, even better it would have made sense and been readily accepted by the audience. Instead we get an instalment that looks bland, and when combined with the inept execution of the titular Demon character, just feels totally lame, inanely tame, easy to blame, out of the frame, a catastrophic dame and a real shame.
Earlier I suggested it’s fanboys who would care about a prequel, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Henry Joost and Ariel Schuman are just that. This feels like a fanboy treatment, it picks up on minor dialogue from the first two films and attempts to develop it, it sticks to characters already in the cannon, it’s utterly risk averse, playing it as safe as it possibly can, and it’s filled with self-reverence and knowing winks. There are moments of dialogue which have a slightly different meaning if you remember certain moments from the previous two films than they do in the context of a conversation. The weird thing is, it’s actually a pretty poor tie in; I remember two things the two previous films established about Katie and Kristi’s past; a fire and that ‘their mum cried a lot’, bizarrely neither of those things actually happen. So what we have is a tie in, by fans, desperate to elaborate on previously mentioned territory but conveniently ignoring anything that either feels too risky or uninteresting.
Any positives, actually yes, the acting is pretty good. The lead actors Chris Smith and Lauren Bittner are both clearly talented and capable. I enjoyed watching the two characters interact and really got into their relationship, I just wish they’d had a script that could have utilised on that. The child actors are what you’d expect but the improvisational style works well and there’re some interesting moments of parent-child interactions. There’s also a neat turn by Dustin Ingram as a film assistant..
Do I recommend Paranormal Activity 3? Surprisingly no, not really, it’s a poor, weak imitation of far superior instalments. It’s a film far too obsessed with finding one overarching story for Paranormal Activity when there really isn’t one. A Demon becomes obsessed with a girl, tormenting her and her unfortunate boyfriend, that was all the plot the first Paranormal Activity needed and it worked. The second film sort of got away with adding a family dynamic to the demon’s hunting but that was through an intelligent script that understood that backstory could only work if the story was focused on the current characters. The script for this one shows no such intelligence.
There’s a fourth instalment which I’m told is more of the same, normally I’d make a facetious comment like (smug voice) ‘maybe I’ll watch it if I stop enjoying life’ but the truth is the trailer for Paranormal Activity: the Marked Ones, a spin off of the main branch of films, has actually peaked my interest. It looks to be set in generic gangland U.S.A and that The Demon gets more to do than just tease little girls before bed. I’ll admit I’m actually a little intrigued to see where the franchise could be taken after standing still for so long, so maybe I will review the fourth one just to get to spin off.
Either way, shut up…………
Written by Sam ‘Paranormal Entity was scarier than this shit’ McKinstrie
Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP
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