Unreal Movie Review: Paranormal Activity 3

Now that the Saw franchise has at last taken its final bloody bow, it was inevitable that another low budget horror series would get to fill its mangled shoes.

The role has been quickly snatched up by Paranormal Activity, the original film grossing almost $200M on a $10,000 budget which is something of a legend in Hollywood. Now with sequels proving profitable with similarly little capital, we’ve found our next neverending horror franchise, for better or worse.

If you thought the Saw budget was minimal, with only a couple million needed for scrap metal, fake blood and D-list actor salaries, compared to Paranormal, it looks like Avatar. All that’s required for these films is a singular house, a couple of low quality cameras and a cast that no one has ever heard of in the least. All of these elements combine to attempt to create “authenticity” for the tale, but by the third film, even the most gullible should realize this isn’t anything close to a true story.

Though it could be said the first film was very original in many ways, the same isn’t true for its sequels, which are carbon copies of the first with only a few details changed. Strange things happen, prompting the man of the house to set up cameras everywhere to capture any seemingly supernatural events. After about a forty five minute lull with only minor bumps and chirps, these events escalate more and more until the last ten minutes of the film descends into frantic insanity.

They don’t LOOK haunted.

It was true for the first two films, and its true here. There’s a reason formulas exist, and it’s because they’re generally good ones. The 53rd time you’ve used your mom’s cookie recipe might not give you that same sense of wonder as the first time you tried it, but that doesn’t mean you still didn’t make some pretty damn good cookies.

With the second Paranormal turning out to be a prequel to the first, something you learned early on, we knew going in that this third film would be traveling even further back. We haven’t even learned the last name of this family yet, but we’re well familiar with sisters Katie and Kristi, and now we’re trying to trace the source of their demonic ailment back to its roots when they were children, if it even started there as it would seem to be passed down like a demented heirloom.

The film follows the two girls, Katie the older, about 8 or 9, Kristi the younger at 5 or 6, along with their mom Julie and her boyfriend Dennis, who is, surprise, surprise, a videographer. But this is 1988, and video cameras are the size of minifridges with tapes that need to be changed every six hours, yet this doesn’t stop Dennis from putting them all around the house when things start getting ghostly.

This scene from the trailer doesn’t actually make it into the film, something that happened in the last film as well.

The malevolent spirit goes by the name of “Toby” in this film, and starts out as Kristi’s innocuous imaginary friend until he starts proving himself to be not-so-fictional.

There’s a reason these films are a more legitimate attempt at horror than any of the gory hackfests of Friday the 13th or more recently Saw lineage. There’s very little violence at all in these movies, yet they are still undeniably tense throughout, even if by the third film you get the gag. The film’s commitment to the quiet moments is what makes its scares really pop. The problem is it takes a while to spool up, so you might be asleep by the first real jump moment.

It’s all incredibly formulaic at this point, but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. The third film employs a few new scare tactics, including some flying little girls, and a VHS camera strapped to an oscillating fan that makes you squirm every time it shifts its gaze over, as there’s no telling what will lurk there.

She’s a lot more cute than creepy in this film, which is welcome as scary dark haired girls are becoming criminally overused in this genre.

But it’s nothing, it’s always nothing. The monster in these films is permanently invisible, and it would be a sell out to bring him into the light, something they’re undoubtedly saving for the fifth or sixth movie. And if these films keep going back in time instead of forward? I wouldn’t be surprised to see Paranormal Activity 5 as a flip book animation drawn by a frightened member of the family recounting his torment in 1895.

Again, like Saw, these movies are so cheap and so profitable that they will keep being made rain or shine until the franchise sputters out close to a decade from when it started. But also like Saw, there are still good elements present that can create effective films despite a fundamental repetitiveness of concept. Paranormal 3 might not be anything you haven’t already seen at this point, but that doesn’t mean it won’t scare you.

3 out of 5 stars

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  1. I haven’t seen any of these movies yet, but this is the first one that’s trailers actually interest me. Maybe it’s because they remind me just a bit of the book, House of Leaves… (the way shes playing in the house, and jumping down the stairs) but I think it’s probably just the trailers.

  2. I’m a fan of the series but I recognize the LULZ aspect of them as well. the whole film is based around ‘oh my god what’s going to scare me abruptly’ and for that reason its scarier. I think where you’re wrong though is calling these movies ‘cheap’

    It’s ridiculous that the first film cost 10k, the second cost nearly 100 million and the third cost 80 million. For a film made with video cameras or supposed to be made that way, it leaves you wondering, where DID all that money go?

    On the real though, the trailer for that exorcism movie ‘the devil inside’ really fucked my head up. I kept thinking about that for most of the movie.

  3. I just watched it… I was a little annoyed that the scene in the trailer wasn’t in the film… I personally don’t find horror movies scary, I did jump at the end… These ones always have a bit at the end that makes you jump… It was a good film, but I hope they don’t keep going back in time, and the second one was before during and after? That was weird… Also, I would’ve liked to see Micah again…

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