PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 (Rated R for some profanity, brief sexually related material, supposed deadly violence, brief drug use, potentially imitative behavior & thematic elements): I'm in the air about both flicks this week, mainly because both of them should be praised for trying something relatively new - A for effort - yet at the same time, both are flawed (B-D for results).
Actually, #3 has been done before - twice, if you figure it out - and this third version - a sort of prequel of a prequel - has done nothing new. The original idea, which might be under the aegis of a "reality" flick, being passed off as a documentary made by some enterprising semi-pro group. The pattern is pretty much the same in all three: cameras are set up around the rooms in a house, hoping to capture something supernatural. Pace is exceptionally slow peppered with lengthy, tedious shots with nothing going on, giving the viewers a chance to case the scene for the slightest movement, the slightest sound. At first, they come in small doses, but as each film progresses the action becomes more violent, the pace is upped, and by film's end all hell has broken loose. Period. No explanation, no closure, just cut to black & then credits (which tell you it's only a movie made with actors, faking with their fairly believable documentary style.
This latest one, as I said, follows the same general pattern - and retains the same tension with just the right number of "boo" shots to keep you pressed into your seats, hanging on through the low points in hopes of being scared all the more the next time.
At first there's a genuine tremor, a genuine earthquake (this is California, after all), coming unfortunately as the main couple plan to video themselves in the thralls of sexual coupling. That's truncated, and so is the plan to remain in that house. In the next home, they arrange three cameras, one of which is rigged onto an oscillating fan so that it could cover two areas as it would swing from one to the other. Slyly, it gives a preview of something ominous beginning in the one room, then it swings to the next, and when it returns we find that something has, indeed happened.
Writer Christopher Landon tells us much about the two little girls who seem to be the focus of the spooky doings, but he holds them at the center of the "boo" shots, suggesting that it is they, with their invisible friend Toby, who are causing the troubles for themselves & the parental couple. As the quartet of them flee to the house of the kids' grandmother, the action cranks up. A group of ladies from an ancient photo menace them, prior to the violent denouement - and screen going to black.
It's only afterwards that one begins to ask questions, none of which were answered in the film, like why do they keep taping when hell's breaking loose? Why play with hanging lights as a kind of devilish motif? For all that, and despite the probably intentional confusion caused by gaps in jump cuts, holes in plot - it's still a pretty good goosebumper, though I doubt if they'll get away with it a fourth time. (Grade: B-)