MOVIE REVIEW: Paranormal Activity 3

The suspense-filled three-quel is an "efficient fear machine," says movie reviewer Paul Daza.



( I'm watching a Saturday night screening of the eerily enjoyable Paranormal Activity 3 (P.A.3). All around me, tensed-up moviegoers both male and female are screaming their lungs out as the VHS camcorders planted by the story's stepfather capture bone-chilling proof of an evil spirit's presence. I glance nervously at my watch to check the time, not because I'm bored by the movie, but because I simply want to have an idea of how many more minutes of terror I'll have to endure before I can return to my humdrum existence. Twenty minutes later, the film ends, and I'm relieved to return to my reality, which is mercifully devoid of supernatural house guests and scary demons.



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A frighteningly cool barkada bonding experience, P.A.3 is very scary indeed. The three-quel to Hollywood's current favorite horror franchise is pitch-perfect for the Halloween season, a 90-minute crescendo of terror that's even more skillfully and creatively made than its two low-budget predecessors. Rated R-13 by the MTRCB because of a sex scene and some of the adult characters' repeated use of the 'f' word, I guess the rating is also there to shield children 13 years old and younger from hearing the four letter words-both English and Filipino (the 'p' word)-which nervous moviegoers exclaim even more frequently than the film's bedeviled characters.


Paranormal Activity 3 is actually a prequel to the two earlier films, which were set in 2006. Paranormal Activity showed how Katie (Katie Featherston) and boyfriend Micah (Micah Sloat) tried to get rid of the malevolent spirit that had been haunting Katie since she was a little girl. P.A.2 showed Katie's sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and her husband Daniel (Brian Boland) wrestling with the same problem with doubly tragic results. P.A.3 takes us way back to 1988, when Katie and Kristi (Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown, respectively) were little girls. The movie quickly sets up the story, establishing the happy kids in their California home together with mom Julie (Lauren Tinner) and wedding videographer stepdad Dennis (Christopher Nicolas Smith).



One night, Dennis asks Julie for permission to videotape their lovemaking. She agrees. After watching the resulting footage, Dennis is convinced that he's also captured the image of a human-like form at the foot of their bed. This convinces him to not only continue recording the action in the master's bedroom, but to set up additional videocams in other rooms as well, including Katie and Kristi's bedroom and the living room/kitchen. His aim is to document the strange goings on that have been troubling them since Kristi befriended an imaginary friend named Toby. As anyone familiar with this franchise knows, what's ultimately captured by those cameras will become the stuff of flesh-creeping nightmares.


Though the P.A. movies have become increasingly contrived-Kristi and Katie have ostensibly been videotaped hundreds of hours more than the housemates of Big Brother-one reason why the series has remained addicting is because each film has been able to surround the two sisters with supporting characters who give each additional installment a new emotional flavor. The first movie terrorized a twentysomething couple. The second one was also about a (married) couple, but its plot's emotional stakes were raised with  the addition of a helpless baby as the target of the malevolent entity. It didn't hurt either that among those trying to protect the infant was a brave German Shepherd. Nothing raises an audience's emotional involvement like the presence of a cute baby and man's best friend. The second sequel, P.A.3, continues its immediate predecessor's penchant for putting children in danger, only this time the kids are two adorable little girls aged six and nine. Though they're not nearly as helpless as the infant in P.A.2, the script does get a few goosebumps from the two girls, especially in the scenes where they're relating to their imaginary friend. The actresses playing Kristi and Katie, Jessica Tyler Brown and Sprague Grayden, are both superb, their natural performances never making you think you're watching anything other than "found" home movies.



As the third installment of a visually limiting franchise, you'd think that Paranormal Activity 3 would just have more of the same scares because of its "CCTV aesthetic." In this, you'd partly be right, because some of P.A.3's squirm-inducing moments are recycled from the earlier films. The appearance on walls of mysterious symbols, the bedroom door that moves by itself, the unseen entity that crawls under the bed sheets of our sleeping protagonist-all these reappear here.


There are, however, a couple of unforgettable innovations that make P.A.3 the most cinematically-satisfying Paranormal Activity of them all.  These include the introduction of a home-made, panning surveillance camera for the living room/kitchen, and a couple of horrific shockers that show just how violent Kristi's imaginary friend is. The former device-the result of a cannibalized oscillating electric fan-is an ingenious example of how a simple, horizontal panning camera movement can be used to create unbearable suspense, and will undoubtedly be studied and parodied by film students in years to come. The latter shots, on the other hand, are in-your-face showcases of supernatural brutality that are unusual for the franchise, which is known more for suggesting terror  than actually showing something horrific.



All in all, Paranormal Activity 3 is a mercilessly taut and efficient fear machine, a franchise high that's going to be hard to top. If you're looking for spine-chilling scares and relentless suspense, there's no better deal this horrific Halloween season.


RATING: 4  Spots out of 5 ....

Click here to see the Paranormal Activity 3 movie schedule

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