Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Once Again, The Blog Is Experiencing ... PARANORMAL ACTIVITY


- The Paranormal Activity movies, are, for my money, some of the most unsettling and genuinely creepy horror movies of the last decade. I'm at a point now where I'm slightly numb to the more over-the-top sort of stuff that scared the crap out of me as a kid. But, watching the PA flicks, it takes me back to that sense of dread and terror that I felt as a ten year old watching forbidden horror movies at friends' sleepover parties. With each new flick, I've gone home from the theater feeling just a little nervous about what's lurking at home in the shadows, about the strange sounds coming from outside. I've thought that maybe, just maybe, there are spirits and other forces haunting us all. I think it's because the PA movies just feel so damn plausible. Sure, it's fun to joke about the goofy characters and the believability of these people filming everything and always keeping the cameras on. But when you let yourself sit back and get immersed in what's going on onscreen ... I don't know that any other movies have created quite the same level of you-are-there-and-this-is-really-happening scares. Suffice it to say, I've never seen other movies that have produced the same sort of shared tension and jump-out-of-your-seat moments in an audience as these. Half the fun, to me, of Paranormal Activity is going to the theater and seeing people squirm, laugh, jump, and scream. If you watch the movies at home, I think you're missing a big part of the experience. So I give these movies a lot of credit - whatever else you think of them, the way that they're able to generate so much audience reaction with such minimal budget and flash - it's really pretty admirable. And this third film is no exception.

With all that said, I came away with slightly mixed feelings about Paranormal Activity 3. It's still a super-fun, super-creepy haunted house flick, but it's also very much more of the same. Plus, I'd say that overall, it's a step down from Parts 1 and 2 in terms of pacing and scares. A couple of the movie's biggest moments felt like retreads from the previous two films. And oddly, a couple of the creepiest-seeming moments from the trailer (most noticeably the two girls playing "Bloody Mary") are altered or absent in the final film. There are still several good twists on the PA formula, but overall, I came away from this one feeling like the franchise, as is, had probably run its course. If they make a fourth film that's just like the previous three, I'd definitely consider it a jump-the-shark moment.

As far as the plot of PA 3 goes, this is another prequel to the original. Whereas PA 2 jumped back only a couple of years, this one goes back to that glorious decade known as the 80's ... 1988, specifically, when the franchise's two starring sisters - Katie and Kristi - were just little girls. As it turns out, their mother's new boyfriend - now living with the family in their Carlsbad, CA home - runs a wedding-video business, which neatly explains why he's got access to multiple, old-school VHS video-cameras. In any case, the movie explores the girls' first encounter with the sinister spectral force that will go on to haunt them as adults. In turn, we get some additional tidbits around the series' overarching mythology, learning a bit about the roots of the curse that follows the girls around, learning some intriguing bits of family history along the way.

And in that respect, the movie hints at some pretty cool elements of the series' mythology, but stops short of revealing anything too substantial. Ultimately, I found that a bit frustrating - not because I needed all the answers spelled out, but because information is held back in such a way so as to leave things open for yet another sequel. I also think that the premise of this movie is such that it inherently sets the expectation of some major story developments. After all, why flash back to Katie and Kristi's childhoods if not to shed some serious light on the origins of their curse? It seemed like there was some potential to flesh out the backstory a lot more than they did here and flesh out the PA mythos. As it is, much of the movie just feels like Parts 1 and 2 with an 80's makeover (though it is admittedly pretty awesome that an old Teddy Ruxpin doll serves as an important prop in the movie - creepy!). And yet ... the last ten minutes or so of the film, while not quite as incredible as the ads would have you believe - are really well done, and a total shift from what we're used to seeing in the series. It made me wish that some of the story revelations in that last segment had been built up to a bit better, and perhaps taken up more of the film's running time. Instead, we get at least a couple of "fake-outs" (where a scare turns out to not be that scary) and then a lot of the typical PA-style night-time scenes, where things like a door swinging shut or a bed sheet moving of its own accord are played for maximum scare-factor. Again, it's too bad, because those last ten minutes introduce a whole other element to the film - but this, the film's most exciting segment by far, feels all too brief. In that respect, I thought the overall pacing of the movie felt slightly off. It seemed to take too long for things to really ramp up ... and I thought a couple of the gimmicks - like a camera set on a fan oscillator (so your view ominously sways, slowly, back and forth across the room) - lost some of their novelty after a while. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman - who made a name for themselves with the docu-thriller Catfish, capture a lot of the tricks and atmospherics that made PA 1 and 2 work so well, but again, the pacing lacks the great build-up and exclamation-point-endings of the previous films.

Look, at the end of the day, I had a ton of fun watching PA 3 in the theater, and if you enjoyed the first two films, definitely check this one out as well. On some level though, I felt like the series might be running out of gas a bit, especially when it's just on autopilot, recycling the same formulas that we've seen multiple times already. And yet, the last ten minutes or so of this one show that the series does, perhaps, have a few new tricks up its sleeve.

My Grade: B

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