Paranormal Activity 3

In her later years, my mother became interested in tracing her family tree.  One of her cousins had a similar interest and they would spend all afternoon looking through his research.  She would also spend hours going through musty old records at various county courthouses finding birth and death certificates, land deeds, census reports and more trying to find great-great-great-grandparents and very distant cousins.  I admired her dedication to finding out more about her family history even when what she discovered wasn’t always pleasant.  Family history plays a big part in this week’s movie, “Paranormal Activity 3,” but what is uncovered doesn’t come from a basement.  Its origins are the bowels of Hell.
 
It’s 1988 and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) and Katie (Chloe Csengery) live in a comfortable home with their mom Julie (Lauren Bitner) and her boyfriend Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith).  Dennis is a wedding videographer and wants to record him and Julie having sex.  Their encounter is interrupted by an earthquake.  As the couple goes to check on the girls, the camera falls to the floor.  Dust from the ceiling appears to be falling on an invisible presence in the room which shakes it off as it moves.  When Dennis sees this, he decides to set up a couple of cameras around the house and document any other strange goings on.  Kristi has recently been interacting with an imaginary friend named Toby.  She is seen on a tape getting up in the middle of the night and speaking to Toby who appears to be asking her questions about Julie and Dennis.  Dennis asks Kristi about Toby and what they talk about but she says they are secrets and if she tells she’ll be in big trouble.  All the videotaping is getting on Julie’s nerves and she demands it stop.  After a babysitter and Dennis’ friend Randy (Dustin Ingram) have terrifying experiences with an unknown entity and Katie is attacked, the girls want to go to grandma’s house to get away from the craziness.
 
I’ve been a big fan of the “Paranormal Activity” series since the beginning.  The story of how the first film was shot for so little money and in the director’s house made the whole thing seem like a huge underdog story.  The fact that that first film was so scary without the usual cheap tricks, unstoppable killer and copious amounts of fake blood and guts made it that much more enjoyable.  The second film didn’t try to fix what wasn’t broken and was, for me, just as good.  Our third visit with Katie and Kristi, this time as young children, while enjoyable, doesn’t quite deliver the scares the first two films did.
 
Continuing to use the point-of-view and/or static camera shots of the first two films, this time we are back in the age of videotape.  There are, at most, three cameras filming constantly for the strange occurrences that begin when Kristi starts her invisible friend relationship.  Two are set up on tripods while the third is panning back and forth on a converted oscillating fan.  This moving camera component ramps up the tension as you wonder what will be in the shot that wasn’t the last time we were looking in that direction.  Many times, nothing is added which just causes the stress to build even more.  Unfortunately, this added tension is rarely paid off in a serious jolt to your senses.  While the film does have some very frightening moments, they are far outweighed by your expectation of something happening that either doesn’t or isn’t the big “BOO” you were hoping for.
 
The two young actresses playing Katie and Kristi are very good, believably playing children being forced to deal with a situation far beyond their or their parents understanding.  The adults on the other hand sometimes overact and the script has them doing some questionable things.  I don’t want to give too much away, but I doubt you’d leave on your camcorder’s light while hiding in a closet from some unknown entity in a dark house.  The script also fails to fully explain the reasons behind the haunting.  There actually is a reason and it is briefly mentioned but there’s not much more than a sentence.
 
While this doesn’t have anything to do with my feelings about the movie, I will share something I noticed.  Much of what’s in the theatrical trailer and the TV commercials isn’t in the movie.  By “much” I mean 75 to 80 percent.  I have noticed many films have trailers that don’t exactly match up to the movie.  “Paranormal Activity 3” has a trailer that could be for a completely different flick.  There’s even a character shown in one TV spot that isn’t in the movie AT ALL.  I understand why some movies have things in the trailer that aren’t in the film.  Some trailers are released a full year before the movie is due out and the scene in the trailer was cut for whatever reason; however, “Paranormal Activity 3” was shot this past summer.  It seems like a cheap trick to fill the trailer with scenes that won’t be in the final cut of the movie.
 
“Paranormal Activity 3” is rated R for some violence, language, brief sexuality and drug use.  The violence is carried out by an invisible creature and we usually see the aftermath.  The brief sexuality has no real nudity and, come to think of it, no sex.  The drug use is the smoking of one joint.  Foul language is scattered.
 
Perhaps I had my expectations set too high for this third installment of the horror series.  There isn’t any multi-sequel film series that hasn’t had a clunker or two.  Not all of the “James Bond” movies were great.  Certainly “Star Wars” episodes one through three weren’t the equals of four through six.  The “Star Trek” movies have certainly been of wildly varying quality.  Still, I believed the simple format and slow-building tension of the “Paranormal Activity” films could be duplicated with a satisfyingly scary third time.  While I wasn’t entirely disappointed, it did leave me wanting more.
 
“Paranormal Activity 3” gets four guitars out of five.
 
It’s a busy week with four new films hitting screens at the local multiplex.  Vote for the next movie I see and review.
 
In Time—Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried star in a sci-fi thriller set in a future where time has become the ultimate currency.
 
Puss in Boots—The Shrek series' suave, sword-fighting furry feline hero stars in his very own swashbuckling animated adventure.
 
The Rum Diary—Johnny Depp is an American journalist in late-1950s Puerto Rico who gets caught up with a corrupt businessman's unsavory scheme.
 
Anonymous—Set in the political snake-pit of Elizabethan England, this historical drama explores the authorship of the works of William Shakespeare.
 
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film currently in theatres.
 
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
 
Do you have a question or comment?  Send it to stanthemovieman@att.net.  Follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.