Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Paranormal Activity 3

In this prequel, we find out how Katie and Kristi first experienced the supernatural, as children. And fortunately for us, their mom's boyfriend videotaped the whole thing, so the movie conveniently doesn't have to change format from the series' found footage gimmick.

I didn't really care for either of the first two Paranormal Activity movies, but the thing that the original understood that the sequel didn't seem to get is that fear in movies is all about anticipation. It's not so much about the scary thing as it is about waiting for the scary thing to happen. Anyone can say "boo!", but getting someone to dread a hypothetical future boo is the real skill set.

Part 3 understands this, and in fact I thought it was the best of the series so far. It was directed by the guys who did Catfish, the much talked about documentary that's not really talked about because of its merits or flaws so much as because everyone wants to know if it was bullshit. Whether or not Paranormal Activity 3 is their first fake-umentary or their second, both films are somewhat adroit at milking the audience's anticipation of what is going to happen next for tension.

Though the story is just another rehash of the events of the original (with, granted, a bit of a twist at the end this time) complete with an abrupt anticlimax, this one is probably the most clever of the three. The film's masterstroke is to have one of the cameras mounted on an oscillating fan, slowly panning between the kitchen and the living room and creating a nice tension between what's in frame and what's out. This leads to some fun scenes where objects ominously disappear, or mysterious figures appear, as the camera pans back and forth.

There's not a lot of what I look for in horror films going on here. There's little to no atmosphere, not much going on that's conceptually scary or disturbing, the story is neither original nor a clever twist on the old. All it really has is the suspense factor, and it's not scary enough to me to sustain feature length. (It probably didn't help that I saw this the morning after watching Halloween and The House of the Devil, which is sort of like taking a master class in suspense). Yet there was at least a little tension here and there, and I caught myself having fun watching this one in a way that I didn't with the previous installments. All in all, not bad.

Grade: C+

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