CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 (2011)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(NIGHT #3. October 23, 2011. 2:33 AM)
(THE SCENE: A bedroom, night. A figure lies asleep in a bed, being recorded by a video camera. The bedroom door is ajar. It slams shut with a loud thud. MICHAEL ARRUDA jumps up from the bed with a start.)
MICHAEL ARRUDA: L.L., is that you?
(L.L. SOARES’s muffled voice): Me? What? What’s going on?
(LS appears from under the covers, and as soon as MA and LS realize they’re in the same bed, they both scream and leap to the floor.)
LS: What am I doing in your house?
MA: Don’t you remember, you were supposed to be playing the ghost at the door?
LS: I thought you were! I told you I wanted the napping role!
MA: Oh. I thought you said “nabbing” role.
LS: Who says “nabbing” role? What the hell does that mean?
MA: I don’t know. It’s what I heard. Anyway, if we’re both here, who slammed the door?
LS: I don’t know, and I don’t care. That stuff seems less scary all of a sudden.
MA (looks at bed): I know what you mean. Anyway, how about we start reviewing this week’s movie?
LS: You go first. I’m going to make myself some hot chocolate to settle myself down.
(LS leaves out of the door that previously slammed, leaving it ajar on his way out)
MA: That was weird.
Anyway, today we’re reviewing PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 (2011), the latest installment in the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY series, obviously. This one begins with video footage from 2005 and then 2006 in which we again see the sisters who were the main characters from the first two movies—Kristi Rey (Sprague Greydon) and Katie (Katie Featherston)— and in these scenes we witness the discovery of videotapes of the girls’ childhood from 1988 that were previously from their grandma’s basement. These tapes are stolen, but who stole them and how we end up watching them is left unclear.
But we do end up watching them, as they make up the main story of this movie, which takes us back to the sisters’ childhood, so we can see how all these freakish paranormal occurrences began to happen to them even while they were children. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 is pretty much a prequel, then, to the first two movies. Prequel? Didn’t we just do this last week with THE THING (2011)?
MA: What the!
LS (returns with steaming mug of hot chocolate): Yep, we did. Actually, Part 2 was mostly a prequel to the first movie (with a little bit of a “sequel” at the end), so Part 3 is mostly a prequel to a prequel.
MA: I’m confused.
LS: No, no, you’re doing fine. Keep going.
MA: What the hell kind of hot chocolate is that? (Looking into mug) What are those? Eyeballs?
LS: Yeah! What do you put in your hot chocolate? Marshmallows?
MA: Well— yeah.
LS: What a wuss.
MA: Anyway— so, the action takes place in 1988, as we meet the girl’s mom Julie (Lauren Bittner) and her live-in boyfriend Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith). Dennis videotapes weddings for a living (if you can call it that, since his lack of income is a sore spot in their relationship) and so he’s rather obsessed with video cameras. He convinces Julie to let him tape them having sex, but before they can complete the act, there is an earthquake (they live in Carlsbad, California). During the quake, dust from the rattled walls and ceiling floats in the room, coating what looks to be a spectral figure in the corner, and this phenomenon is captured by Dennis’s camera.
And since they’ve also been hearing weird noises in the middle of the night, Dennis decides to set up some video cameras around the house, hoping to catch more glimpses of their “ghost.” What he captures is Julie’s youngest daughter getting up in the middle of the night talking to someone— someone she calls Toby— who everyone else knows better as her imaginary friend.
Dennis captures more weird things on his camera, and he also gets his buddy Randy (Dustin Ingram, who gets to appear in one of the scarier scenes of the movie) involved, when he shows these spooky things to him. Eventually, Dennis becomes convinced that Julie and her daughters are in danger, but Julie disagrees, dismissing her daughter’s behaviors as normal child behavior—kids do weird things, she says—and she grows increasingly irritated by her camera-toting boyfriend.
In this case, you shoulda listened to Dennis, Julie!
LS: I’ll say.
MA: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 is exactly what I expected it to be: spooky scary stuff without much of a story to hold it together, and that’s the main reason I’m not a big fan of this series. To me, the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY series raises “cheap scares” to another level. We’re subjected to repeated scenes of silent homes at night while people sleep— for anyone who’s spent time alone in a quiet house, these things are naturally scary. It’s creepy when you hear a noise in the middle of the night. Spooky, yes, creative, no.
The PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies just don’t have much of a story, and they suffer for it. Watching these movies is like watching a TV reality show with cameras filming weird things going on in people’s homes. Sure, it’s entertaining in a voyeuristic sort of way, but it just doesn’t do it for me the way other more traditional horror movies do.
(LS suddenly moves toward the camera and appears to be talking to someone. He looks upset. Then he moves back to where MA is)
MA: What was that all about?
MA: Who were you talking to.
LS: Toby. But he told me not to tell anyone what he said.
MA: Tell Toby he’s being a pain in the ass.
LS: Sure, but do you really want me to tell him that?
MA: Like I’m supposed to believe he’s really over there.
LS: Hey, Toby. He just called you a pain in the ass. (To MA) You’ll be sorry.
MA (shrugs it off): Anyway, All this being sad, the films, this one included, are creepy, and they do provide some jolting scares, but they’re the kind of scares one gets while walking through a Halloween Haunted House attraction rather than watching a well-written horror movie. Still, being scared is fun, and I can’t deny that watching PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 was fun, because it was, especially in a crowded theater (I’m guessing this one’s going to enjoy a strong opening weekend), but there’s just not that much to it. I left the theater wanting more.
There were some neat touches and some scary scenes. I liked the camera on the fan oscillator bit, as that set the stage for some creepy material. I also loved the “Bloody Mary” scene, as it was probably my favorite scene of the whole movie, although it’s not the same one showed in the movie’s trailers.
LS: Yeah, I actually thought this bit of information was fascinating. We talk about trailers a lot here – about ones that give too much away, about ones that keep you wanting more and in this case we finally get someone who knows what the hell they are doing. There are scenes in the trailer for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 that were filmed just for the trailer. We don’t see them in the movie. And they are not just throw-away scenes – they are memorable and even may provide clues to the actual film. Not only did they not ruin the movie for their prospective audience, they built up scares before you even saw the movie! Friggin brilliant! That’s what trailers should do!
MA: I guess. I would have liked to have seen those scenes in the movie.
I enjoyed Christopher Nicholas Smith a lot as Dennis, and thought he gave the best performance of the movie. He was a very likable main character, and he wasn’t stupid, so when the freaky stuff starts happening, his reactions seemed real and they made sense.
LS: Yeah, I guess he can be annoying, since he brings his video camera everywhere (luckily for us), but this seems to be how he assimilates the world around him. He uses a camera for a living, but he also is most comfortable using cameras to solve the mystery of this haunted house, and it makes perfect sense that he would use the tools he is comfortable with.
MA: I also really enjoyed Dustin Ingram as his buddy Randy. Randy gets to take part in the scary Bloody Mary scene.
LS: Yeah, Randy is great. I wanted more of him. More of that cute babysitter, too (why didn’t Dennis ever introduce the two of them, like Randy asked?).
MA: Because the movie’s only 85 minutes long. He didn’t have time!
LS: When he gets to experience the weirdness first hand, Randy rightly freaks out and realizes it’s not just sitting around watching creepy videos anymore. Something really is going on, and it hits home.
(LS moves toward the camera and appears to be talking to someone we can’t see again. He seems more agitated, and then steps back to where he was)
MA: Still talking to Toby?
LS (mutters): Someone’s going to be sooooorry.
MA: I wasn’t as enamored with Lauren Bittner as the girls’ mom Julie. She was OK, but I thought her character’s refusal to believe Dennis, in spite of the evidence, was a bit of a stretch, and I know later on she flat out refuses to watch the videos, and so she’s not seeing what Dennis is seeing, but still, with that weird stuff happening, wouldn’t she WANT to see what’s going on?
LS: I have to admit, I thought for once one of these PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies was going to finally earn its R-rating and show us some skin during the “Let’s tape ourselves having sex” scene with Julie and Dennis. Like you said earlier, an earthquake interrupts them, so all Julie gets down to is her underwear. But seriously, I haven’t figured out how these movies don’t get a PG-13 rating. They’re not gory and there’s not much else to demand an R.
MA: I have to agree with you there, and even more ridiculous, the theater manager was at the ticket booth checking ID’s, even for people who obviously looked in their early 20s. Even better, they had a second employee by the theater entrance to check again!! I thought I was walking into an NC-17 movie or something!
LS: Hey, they were doing some extra carding at my theater, too. I bet it’s because they expect so many kids to sneak into this one. I don’t think it’s because of the movie’s content – it can’t be. But rather because theaters don’t want to lose money for all these kids who plan to sneak in!
LS: Back to our review.
And don’t forget the kids in this movie. They’re terrific. There’s Chloe Csengery as the young Katie and Jessica Tyler Brown as young Kristi Rey. They’re both believable kids, and that’s crucial to a movie like this.
MA: Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman do a fine job at the helm. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 is well-paced and it’s scary, even if the scares are cheap and sometimes false. Christopher B. Landon wrote the screenplay, and he wrote the screenplay to the second film in the series as well.
LS: Joost and Schulman previously made the faux documentary, CATFISH (2010), about a guy (Ariel Schulman’s brother, Nev) who decides to go and meet a woman he’s been having an online romance with on Facebook, with unexpected results. It was a clever little movie, and the perfect training ground for a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY sequel — I mean, prequel. It’s the same style of filmmaking, except this time for scares, and they do a fine job here. And the script is just as good as the other films in the series.
MA: It’s adequate, but I wanted to know more. For example, who stole the video tapes? How is it that we’re watching them? I really thought there would be some explanations at the end, and there weren’t.
Speaking of the end, I was disappointed with the ending to this movie. I thought it was abrupt and not very satisfying. It definitely left me with that “it can’t be ending here” feeling.
LS: Can you say PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4? This movie is so primed for another sequel, it’s not funny. The strange thing is, if you’ve been watching all the films, Part 3 does give us some answers to what the hell is going on. Some very definite answers. But, like you said, it offers up new questions as well, which is exactly what you want to do if you plan to keep making these movies. Who did steal the videotapes? Why? And why are they watching them? Come back next time and find out!
That said, I actually liked the ending of this one. It doesn’t answer the questions you asked, but it answers stuff from the previous movies, in a very spooky way.
MA: All in all, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 isn’t a bad movie, but I don’t think it’s a particularly very good movie either. Still, it’s Halloween, and if you want to be scared, it’ll do the trick. Just don’t expect much of a treat. I give it two knives.
LS: I don’t know, I definitely like this series a lot more than you do, and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 is no exception. Sure, there are lots of cheap scares, but there are definitely some real ones, too. The acting is perfect, especially the kids, who could make or break a movie like this that strives for realism to dupe us into suspending disbelief. I thought the story and scares in this one were just fine.
And you said earlier that these movies are fun, and that nails why they’re so popular. Unlike the recent remake of THE THING, where they followed the numbers and didn’t surprise us at all, and a formulaic Hollywood pic like REAL STEEL, where we knew the plot twists coming a mile away, the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies still find ways to surprise us. Sure, they follow their own “connect the dots” formula. You keep seeing a scene until something suddenly “goes wrong.” But it works. There are always scenes that you don’t expect. It’s a formula based on giving us some real scares, and it succeeds, and that’s why I continue to enjoy going to these movies.
And a BIG part of the fun is the audience. For some reason, audiences for the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies are animated, vocal and interactive in ways no other audiences are. I don’t know why this series actually seems to plug into kids and elicit reactions from them – but it does, and that’s a big part of “the experience.”
MA: I think it’s because they’re scared. Folks in the theater with me were blurting out zingers and one-liners with regularity, and it’s not like they’re making fun of the movie. I think they’re releasing nervous tension.
LS: I haven’t seen audiences this involved since the old midnight movies like THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW.
MA: Yep, the experience is a little like ROCKY HORROR.
LS: And the fact that these movies continue to scare audiences without fail is something to be applauded. There is no way you can replicate this in your living room, and if you’re watching these movies on DVD, you may have no clue what’s so great about them. In fact you might be thinking “What’s the big deal about these movies, anyway?”
Are the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies great works of art? No. They can’t hold a candle to classic horror films that actually are about something. But for what they are, they’re a good time. And for that reason, I give PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 ~ three and a half knives. It’s certainly better than a lot of the movies we saw over the summer, and so far this fall. And, especially if you’re a fan of the other films in the series, you need to go and see Part 3 on the big screen. With an audience. Preferably a packed house.
MA: See, I just can’t get into them as much as you do. For me, it’s the difference between watching a TV show like LOST vs. a reality TV show. The reality TV show is fun to watch, but I’m nowhere near as interested in watching it faithfully as I am a scripted show like LOST. That’s not to say the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies don’t have scripts, because they do, but their stories to me are secondary. It’s all about the camera. It’s a gimmick series.
LS: A gimmick that works.
(LS stops and then steps closer to the camera. He appears to be talking to an unseen person again. The discussion gets heated, and then LS steps back to where he was)
MA: What was that all about? Isn’t Toby still out to get me?
MA: So, what are you all worked up about? I would have thought you’d be happy about that development.
(There is a loud swoosh! sound, and MA is whisked off his feet by an unseen presence and dragged off camera.)
LS: I’m upset because he won’t let me join in on the fun.
MA (off camera): I heard that! You wait till next time!
LS: Have fun with Toby! (Off camera there are sounds of a powerful struggle). Okay folks, while those two duke it out, I’ll say so long—until next time!
© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 ~ two knives!
LL Soares gives PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 ~three and a half knives.