Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Paranormal Activity 3: the long road home


First of all, there is nothing in the released trailers that will give anything away about "Paranormal Activity 3," the latest (and likely last) installment of the best ghost story trilogy ... ever. Yes, I said ever, because "Poltergiest III" sucks.


PA3 follows the exact same formula as the first two. It's a prequel to PA2, which was itself a prequel to PA1. Confused? Don't worry about it. All three movies are about sisters Katie and Kristy and the men who just can't help but film them. Thankfully not in a creepy way, but PA3 certainly reveals potential daddy issues the sisters exhibited in the other two films. What's important is that even though all three movies follow the same essential plot, it still works. It's like visiting the same haunted house year after year. You know exactly where to step and have a pretty good idea about when the scares will come. The difference is that someone new is in charge every time, with new actors and different experiences. So it's the same, but just different enough to be worth the price of admission.


PA3, like its forebears, is genuinely scary. The film sets you up and knocks you down like one of those clown-shaped punching bags. When you think you are safe, tucked in bed in your own suburban home, the demented clown springs back and punches you in the gut again.


One of PA3's biggest strengths is in the false scare. By having characters try to creep other characters out, one can never be sure exactly what is real. The film style-- PA3 is set in 1988 so it's all supposed to be VHS--causes you to see things that aren't there and not believe you saw things that were there.


Sadly, nothing is perfect. The inherent flaw of this type of prequel is in explaining away the terror. While a reason for what happens to Katie and Kristy is revealed (no, I'm not going to tell you. Go see the damn movie), the deeper why and how remains a mystery. I'm sure there was pressure to give the audience some explanation, finally, but it takes away just a little piece of the horror of the situation.


Then again, maybe they have another movie up their sleeves. It'd have to be a sequel to the prequel, perhaps covering the sisters' teen years.


Teen girls. Now that's frightening.


Overall, PA3 hasn't lost any of the shine of the first two films. If this truly is the end, it's a hell of a finish. Paranormal Activity also batted a perfect three for three in me seeing someone leave the theater crying. They don't put that in the trailers, but maybe they should.


Threat level: RED. Yes, it's formulaic, but there's not a damn thing wrong with this formula. (For an explanation of our ratings, visit the Warning System page.)

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