Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review: Paranormal Activity 3

There are some things that never get old – like pizza and Seinfeld reruns, and then there are some things that just won’t go away – like American Pie sequels and Occupy Wall Street protestors.  Well, despite the hype, I am sad to report that "Paranormal Activity 3" moves the incredibly profitable franchise further from the former and dangerously close to the latter.  This is a no easy fete when you consider that this is the same genre that has spawned a seemingly never-ending series of “Saw” and “Friday the 13th” films.

Co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman make sure that all the usual Paranormal Activity conventions are present in the latest prequel – unsteady cameras, night vision, cheap thrills, date and time stamps, and mediocre acting, giving the film the same look and feel as its predecessors.  While these are the mechanisms that made movies one and two cult hits, they are precisely the reason that number three seems to lack the same vigor and punch.  All the setups have become overly familiar and all the visual cues seem far too choreographed.  So while false scares still account for a handful of pulse-raising gags, the true pivotal moments in the film appear completely telegraphed.  

That’s not to say that there are some good things about the film.  Christopher Nicholas Smith does a decent job as the perfectly affable man-behind-the-camera lacking just enough common sense to make sure that reason does not get in the way of the slaughter that is sure to come and Dustin Glitz brings a nice bit of comic relief to the otherwise tense proceedings.  Unfortunately, their respective performances are not enough to usurp the shortcomings of the script, which completely unravels in the third act when the film tries to flesh out the origin of the menace we were first introduced to in the original film.

As for the rest of the cast, Lauren Bittner is uninspired as Julie – the mother of Katie and Kristi, while Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown as the tormented sisters are utterly as pedestrian as child actors come.  However, the strength of the series has never been the acting chops of the respective casts, but instead the conventions and execution of the film.  When you consider that the first film was an unknown project with a budget of $15K that went on to become one of the most successful films in cinematic history based on ROI ($107M domestic), then perhaps one can conclude that perhaps this film felt like a disappointment simply because it came with higher expectation.

Paranormal Activity 3 opened this past weekend at $54M (estimated) to account for the largest October opening ever and it will be interesting to see how word of mouth affects its second weekend take.  If you are a thriller junky you should see this film because it will give you the occasional scare and seeing it in the cinema will definitely will heighten the experience.  For the average viewer though, I would watch it as a rental.  It is not groundbreaking and not clever, but it is just entertaining enough to make the experience not a total waste of time.  However, be warned; even a mediocre horror film such as this one will make you start to wonder what that noise coming from your closet is. 

Standout Performance: Toby and the bed sheet.


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