Film Review: Paranormal Activity 3
Flick your fingers in your friend’s face, he’ll blink. Shout ‘boo!’ in silent room, you’ll surprise someone. The first ‘Activity’ was a homemade jump-scare shocker, made by a guy who just happened to be a talented coaxer of a filmmaker. That oddity eventually shook the registers to the tune of $107 million domestically (USA). Extraordinary popularity as an audience terroriser and a miniscule budget set what has now become the series standard: Tiny expenditure, instant shocks = maximum profit. What was once an accidental success has become a cynical monetary procedure, made worse by the repetitive gimmicks squeezed dry over its 84 minute running time.
A tip whilst watching any of these films: If a character is looking toward the left of the frame, you look to the right. One of the biggest problems with the shock gimmicks of ajar doors, swinging lamps and bass rumbles is that we’ve become used to them, and we know how to predict and therefore outwit them. The filmmakers try to outfox us by mounting the camera to a dismantled electric fan head, surveying the room in 180 degree sweeps. Trying to shake our gaze, in the process reducing the proceedings to nothing more than a filmic version of Where’s Waldo/Wally (depending on your region). We have become used to the fact that we aren’t going to see a ghost (beyond the now standard fleeting glimpse), the economical trope that subsequently became postmodern has now devolved into a cliché. That cliché giving way to a series of poltergeist antics that often border on slapstick, including mass kitchen levitation, invisible walls and a possessed Teddy Ruxpin (88’ is the new 77’!). The (now) period setting is the 80’s of Cyndi Lauper, Miami Vice pastels and bad hair. The supposedly analogue home video of yesteryear looks closer to a DSLR of today, sure some TV lines and VHS timecode have been applied but the smeared distortion (typical of that camera) is non-existent. Nitpicking to be sure, but details like this do taint the illusion.
The first film successfully operated under the premise of the Alien principle e.g. No monster/carnage for at least 40 minutes. By now however there is no longer any atmosphere or even suspense, just long stretches of silence punctuated by loud noises. Made worse by the prospect of this being a prequel, we know these kids will live through these supposedly traumatic events. Thus the film overrides its own logic with a plot revelation that teeters on absurd, but really comes across as feeble. Outside of a theatre and a hyped audience this film is a hopeless case, it lives and breathes amongst a fretting crowd of date night adolescents and low expectations. One of which announced her intentions to illegally download the film once she got home. The problem is though that the film will not live at home. Oddly though it is a cinematic experience that needs the theatre audience as a crutch. At least they’ll scream, they have no pause button. If such a lousy film deserves any credit it’s in the fact that it knows the captive audience has no control. That fact is their worst nightmare, it may well be yours. Just keep looking to the left.