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Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/24/2012
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/14/2012
You've got to hand it to Paramount, they know a winner when they see it and they know how to ride that horse as long as possible. When Paranormal Activity was released in 2009, it not only revived the mostly-dead "found footage" genre, it also brought home over $100 million at the box-office. This was a notable feat, as the movie was made for $15,000. Paranormal Activity 2 was released one year later, and, again, was a hit. Thus, it was no surprise with Paranormal Activity 3 arrived. The surprising thing is how these quickie sequels are able to tie things together.
Paranormal Activity and Paranormal Activity 2 told the story of Katie (Katie Featherston) and Kristi (Sprague Grayden), sisters who are plagued by a ghostly demon. Paranormal Activity 3 explores videotapes from 1988 to show what happened to the girls when they were children. Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) live with their mother, Julie (Lauren Bittner), and her boyfriend, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith). Dennis does wedding videos for a living and he loves to record daily activities around the house. Kristi has an imaginary friend named Toby whom she often talks to. Following an earthquake and some odd noises around the house, Dennis decides to set up cameras in the girl's room, the master bedroom, and the den/kitchen area to see if he can observe anything unusual. Not long after this, Kristi begins to talk with Toby more frequently and she wanders the house at night. This coincides with objects moving seemingly on their own and people being hurt. How long will the family stay in the house?
When it comes to the Paranormal Activity series, I come down somewhere in the middle. I really love the fact that the films have re-energized the haunted house/ghost genre, as it's one of my favorites. I like that the relatively simple premises make the films rely on creepy visuals and sounds. I also admire the fact that the movies don't pull any punches and allow the characters to die. On the minus side, these movies can become very tedious and there are certainly times where an attempt to create tension or to lull the viewer into a false sense of security creates boredom. In addition, as with any "found footage" movie, the logic of why someone would be recording the events often goes out the window. One of the most interesting drawbacks to the series is that the entity is invisible. This was obviously done for budgetary reasons, but it certainly limits what can be shown on-screen.
Paranormal Activity 3 is not immune to these pros and cons. The fact that Dennis videotapes weddings doesn't do much to explain why he always has a video camera with him. (They probably won't top the use of the security camera footage in Paranormal Activity 2 as the best excuse for why everything's being recorded.) We get a lot of nothing shots from the master bedroom cam and I'm not a fan of the "Night #?" title cards which show up during the film. The overall story here is a bit muddled and the ending ruins any goodwill which the film has created. Remember, this is happening in the past to two characters which we've met in the previous films. They must suffer from amnesia following the events of Paranormal Activity 3 to have not mentioned them in the other movies.
These issues aside, Paranormal Activity 3 does some things correctly and it may be the best entry in the series. The film was directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the filmmakers behind Catfish, a nothing movie which somehow manages to create a great amount of tension in its second act. They bring some of that talent to Paranormal Activity 3, most notably in the use of the camera in the living room/kitchen area. In order to cover this space, Dennis dismantles an oscillating fan and creates a mount for this camera which moves back and forth, sweeping the area. Thus, we now have a view where the camera is moving side-to-side and we wait to see if something will be in the frame when the camera moves. This is used twice in the two most jarring shots in the film. One is simply shocking, while the other is incredibly creepy. Other attempts to be shocking or scary fall somewhat flat, especially those which focus on Kristi's night-time behavior. This should be creepy, but it isn't. The story does earn points for the characters actually trying to be proactive about what is happening.
Given that we've gotten three Paranormal Activity films in three years (with a fourth one on the way), this could have very easily been a cheap, quickie series where the goal was to simply rush product into the theater. The easiest way to achieve this would have been to have the movie's be stand-alone films where each story took place in a different house with different people. Paramount has put a sly twist on this approach by having the locale change with each film, but the movies continue to tell an on-going story. Paranormal Activity 3 brings in new character while building on the mythos presented in the previous entries. Again, the ending doesn't work, but it does make me want to see how they explain it in the next movie. My biggest problem with Paranormal Activity 3 is that my favorite character from Paranormal Activity 2, the pool skimmer, does not make an appearance.
Paranormal Activity 3 made me wonder how they afforded that house on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 32 Mbps. Despite the fact that we are supposed to be watching VHS (3/4 inch?) tapes from the 80s, the image is very sharp and clear. There is little grain here and no unintentional defects from the source materials. The colors look good. There are some moments which correctly mimic how bright lights or low light would effect this could of taping, thus some shots are dark and some show whiteout. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. I don't think any of us come to the Paranormal Activity movies looking for realism, so I like the unrealistic surround sound effects we get from a camcorder. The track offers some nicely done stereo and surround effects which help to add to the tension of the movie. We hear things happening off-screen and behind us, thus placing us in the action. A few key moments provide some quick subwoofer effects.
The Paranormal Activity 3 Blu-ray Disc is just like the other two entries in the series in that it has a no-frills menu (white text on a black background) and only one extra. "Lost Tapes" contains two deleted scenes which run about 3 minutes. One is a reel of Dennis playing pranks on Julie, while the other is a commercial for Dennis' business. It should be noted that the Blu-ray Disc contains the 84-minute Theatrical Cut of the film, as well as a 93-minute extended version.
Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long