Paranormal Activity 3 is shocking alright, but that has less to do with what’s in the movie, and more to do with what’s been left out. See that publicity picture located above this review? Sadly, you won’t see that scene play out in the movie. Oh, and have you seen this trailer promoting the film? Well guess what, you won’t be seeing those scenes in Paranormal Activity 3 either. Like I said; shocking, right?
Just to be clear, it’s hardly unheard of for the occasional promotional still or trailer to differ from the final cut, especially since movie marketing and movie making are two distinct entities. But we’re not talking about one or two scenes missing, we’re talking about most of the trailer missing. There are scenes that have been entirely rewritten, characters that have been completely cut and a handful of gravity-defying scares that are nowhere to be seen. And as for the promotional stills, I can’t seem to find a single image released by Paramount that is actually in the damn movie. In other words, the film being advertised is not the film moviegoers are paying to see.
I doubt I would have brought this issue to the fore of my review if I didn’t think it went a long way to explain why the film you can currently pay to see is a bit of a mess. If you’ll recall, the first Paranormal Activity worked primarily due to the novelty of the concept and innovative low-budget execution, which was enough to overshadow the thin narrative, repetitive structure and unconvincing characters. Two movies later, that novelty has just about worn off, yet the formula remains unchanged. Consequently, the flaws of the series are now more patent than ever, what with this third instalment better resembling a string of ghostly YouTube videos played back-to-back than a structured movie. The film is so formless, one is left to ponder whether Christopher B. Landon’s screenplay was really just a bulleted list of “Scary Scenes” that the filmmakers proceeded to film indiscriminately, blindly hoping that if they shot enough of them, they’d have sufficient amounts of footage to cobble together a 90-minute movie. That would, at the very least, explain why there are so many scenes from the trailer inexplicably exercised from the final cut. It would also explain why the movie isn’t very good.
Much like the footage from the trailer, this still is not from the actual movie.
Serving as a prequel, Paranormal Activity 3 is set in 1988, the dawn of the home video revolution where young sisters Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) — the protagonists from the previous films — have their first brush with the paranormal. Mum’s new boyfriend Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith), a wedding videographer, is the first to observe the ghostly presence in their new home when he captures something peculiar on camera whilst (inexplicably) surveying the girls’ room. Dennis promptly sets up more cameras around the house in a hope of capturing more anomalies, including a camera mounted atop of a fan oscillator so that it can slowly pan between the living room and the kitchen, an effective gimmick directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (of Catfish fame) get plenty of mileage from.
Although Paranormal Activity 3 makes no effort to combat the weaknesses of the previous instalments, it hasn’t cast aside the strengths of the series either. I applaud the way in which, even with a multi-million dollar budget, the filmmakers once again resist the temptation of CGI and continue to embrace low-fi practical scares, evoking a fear of the unknown rather than the known (which is always more effective). Still, when the most innovative thing about the film is that the camera now oscillates, one can’t help but scoff at the miniscule amount of creativity that has been drizzled into this Halloween cash grab. Beat for beat, the film goes through the exact same motions as the previous two: boyfriend/husband detects a paranormal presence in their house, girlfriend/wife doesn’t believe him, and both pay dearly for it (in this case during a silly climax that the film would like you to believe it was working towards all along, but in truth, never was).
So yes, there are still a few chills to be had, but even the best of them do little to diminish that inescapable feeling of “been there, seen that”. What was once paranormal activity is decidedly normal activity now, and if the franchise wants us to come back for round four, it’s going to have to seriously shake things up. Bring on a new set of characters, tell us a story with substance, take the camera outside the confines of the home, and for goodness sake, show us some footage from the bloody film.