Paranormal Activity 3

Before I really start to lay into the poor bastard, let me say this: if Horror, as a genre, continues to head in the direction set out by the Paranormal Activity series, that will be a good thing. The emphasis on an atmosphere you could cut with a terrified knife, the absence of constant ominous music and the fact that they trust their audience to piss themselves without needing to telegraph and highlight every scare; these are all good things and to be encouraged. That said, when watching thiWATCH OUT SUDDEN LOUD NOISE!!!

So, it’s 1988 and we witness the childhoods of some of the characters from earlier (later?) in the series. Creepy Girls 1 and 2 (Tyler Brown & Csengery) and are living with Mum (Bittner) and Dad (Smith), being kids (one with an imaginary friend who might not be so imaginary), when non-specific creepiness starts to happen. Concerned about the many and inconsistent hauntings being distributed around his new home, the husband, with his assistant Randy, sets cameras up all around the house and oddness happens on film for the rest of the movie. You may notice there was only one character named there, despite half the dialogue being those names screamed in concerned anguish. Yet at no point were any of the other characters developed enough for them to truly register: I don’t remember the other names and simply don’t care enough about them to look them up.

And that, right there, is the main problem that lurks at the heart of Paranormal Activity 3, aside from the fact that it was witches (oh yeah, spoiler: it’s witches). It’s too lazy to really engage you. Far too often the film is content to rely on the silence-silence-silence-LOUD NOISE formula and, sure, it makes you jump, but leaves you feeling cheated because the film-makers didn’t earn that scare. This happens over and over, while the few genuinely creepy moments have all the terror drained out of them by being played again and again as the characters watch the tapes back. This makes sense, of course, given the conceit of the movie, yet it can’t help but feel like the our erstwhile directors are saying “LOOK! LOOK AT THE GOOD SCARY WE DID!”

It’s hard, though, to feel much fear on Wife’s behalf with her defining characteristic being “is a wife and mother”. She nags, screams and comforts with no hint of consistency: in one scene demanding Husband figure out the creepy stuff, in the next telling him to stop because it helps the plot if he’s unable to check the footage too closely. Why? Because wives nag. And she’s a wife. Her spouse is just as bad, with the film seeming to assume that ‘films himself constantly’ works as a key trait. It might, if he was properly characterised as an obsessive, but too often he’s just shown going about his daily life. The film works best contrasting the scary with the mundane; and because they have no personality, the mundane is all too often confused with the boring.

And, look, Hollywood, we need to talk. We all loved the Twins in The Shining, and it’s hard to deny Ringu caused a lot self-pissing, but please, please, please stop relying on creepy children. It’s boring, it’s lazy, it’s been done to undeath. If there’s one thing that would boost this movie an entire star, it would be if the children had a single adjective to their names beyond ‘unsettling’.

Despite these failings, PA3 is a solid spookfest, with some excellently constructed elements and a climax that stands up as one of the best-paced horror scenes in the last few years. I only beat it because I love it, and I know that if the film really applied itself, it could be one of the most terrifying tales to grace the screen, rather than a hasty franchise-milker.

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