Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Paranormal Activity 3 / *** (R)

Kristi: Jessica Tyler Brown
Katie: Chloe Csenergy
Julie: Lauren Bittner
Dennis: Christopher Nicholas Smith
Randy: Dustin Ingram

Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Written by Christopher B. Landon. Based on characters created by Oren Peli. Running time: 85 min. Rated R (for some violence, language, brief sexuality and drug use).

Hollywood has proven throughout cinematic history that one of the best ways to make money from filmmaking is to take a successful formula and milk it until it’s dry. The third movie in the “Paranormal Activity” franchise delivers the same quality and quantity of scares as the previous entries. It begins to stretch the bounds of the format, however.

“Paranormal Activity 3” continues to fill in the backstory of the first phenomenally frightening movie by spinning off from a little information provided in the first installment about the childhoods of the two sisters who are terrorized by a demonic ghost in both previous movies. It’s 1988, and we meet Katie (Chloe Csenergy) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) as little girls at a birthday party. We meet their single mother, Julie (Lauren Bittner, “Bride Wars”). We also meet the grandmother, who because of the rule of economy of characters wasn’t introduced to for no reason.

Like the previous films, this is another found footage movie, meaning that the events were supposedly video taped by those involved and discovered later. The person doing the video taping here is Julie’s boyfriend, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith), who makes his living making wedding videos. Because the movie takes place in the late eighties, the video resources aren’t quite as impressive as in “Paranormal Activity 2”. But, like so many people video taping horrific happenings in movies lately, the guy is persistent in his devotion to the camera.

The PA formula has been pretty well established by the third outing, and the movie plays pretty much as expected. We meet the family. Some creepy things start happening. Dennis decides to capture everything in the house on tape. He even devises an oscillating camera in order to capture more of what goes on at night, or what doesn’t go on. The important question: Is what we see scary?

I think it’s still pretty scary. There are no big surprises, but the scares work through both anticipation and surprise. The first real scare, which occurs when Dennis and Julie are playing at the idea of making a sex tape, doesn’t really work. An earthquake interrupts the couple and is not really the proper incident in which to introduce the paranormal entity. It does give Dennis proper fuel to start taping everything, however, and the rest of what’s in store works very well. There are even a couple of incidents where I believe the directors, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (“Catfish”), tip their hats to “Halloween” and “Poltergeist”.

It does seem that this franchise is starting to push the boundaries of its found footage format, though. This one gets mired in some of the pitfalls of the format more so than the previous two movies. Most found footage movies fall into the trap of having the cameraman character continue to film long after any reasonable person would’ve stopped. Dennis is guilty of this. For however much this guy is into video recording, I cannot believe he had any good reason to film the last 15 minutes of what goes on here. Of course, if he didn’t, we wouldn’t know how it ends.

Still this movie will scare you. There is one scene where Katie suggests that they play Bloody Mary in the mirror that will get your heart pumping. And, you need not worry that the studio spoiled this scene with the trailer for the movie, because the scene in the movie is completely different than the one in the trailer. In fact, very few of the scenes in the trailer are actually in the movie. I think those scenes must’ve been created especially for the trailer, as some of them couldn’t even fit in with the story of the movie. Ah, what won’t a ghost do to sell its movie? Milk that cow. Milk it!

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