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‘Paranormal Activity 3’ Earns Every Fright in Precise Chiller

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Rating: 4.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Horror films that delicately balance the psychological nature of fear with the actual chills are as rare as Lady Gaga without attention. “Paranormal Activity 3” is one of those scary “delights,” essentially walking the tightrope between screaming “boo” in a crowded theater and tensely sending electricity down the spine.

In the capable creator hands of the perplexing film “Catfish” from last year, directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, “PA3” becomes a voyeuristic dream, shot through the prism of 1980s camcorders. This prequel to the first Paranormal Activity films takes the sister characters of Katie and Kristi Rey and places them back as children in the late 1980s, and uses the distinct technique of the two filmmakers – constant point-of-view use of camcorder perspective – as the basis for all the great scary moments.

The film begins in 2005, when sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden) drops off some boxes at the home of her sister Katie (Katie Featherston). There are some mysterious videotapes in one of the boxes, which becomes the basis for the flashbacks. One more year goes by, and when Katie’s house is trashed, the videotapes come up missing. The film suddenly shifts to the footage that is on those old school cassettes.

Chloe Csengery as Young Katie and Jessica Tyler Brown as Young Kristi Rey in ‘Paranormal Activity 3’
Chloe Csengery as Young Katie and Jessica Tyler Brown as Young Kristi Rey in ‘Paranormal Activity 3’
Photo credit: © 2011 Paramount Pictures

The tapes reveal that Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) is a videographer, and lives with Julie (Lauren Bittner), the mother of Young Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown). When some bumps in the night has Dennis setting up camcorders all around the house, the footage reveals a presence, and it might be associated with an imaginary friend that only reveals itself to Kristi. Dennis and his associate Randy (Dustin Ingram) become obsessed with discovering the source of the “activity,” and that fixation leads down a frightening path.

The style of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, prevalent in the is-it-or-is-it-not-true “Catfish” is perfect for the Paranormal Activity series, as the character of Dennis represents them in his constant need to videotape every aspect of his life. As in the previous film, it feels like we’re staring through the lens of the camcorder, acting as voyeurs in a freakish, off-kilter sideshow. There are times that the camcorder needs to be powered down, but the filmmakers wouldn’t dare. It allows for a build-up of tension that makes scary movies so fun, and the frights delivered are right on.

The production design is creatively precise as well. The year is 1988, and the videotape footage (although a bit clearer to allow for viewing the film) is perfectly along the analog lines of the 1980s (editing bays included), and the house is decorated to perfection from the era. Every shot from the camcorder is set up to maximum effect, for example Dennis invents a way to use a oscillating fan base to pan one camcorder’s position back-and-forth. The result is unsettling and oddly Zen-like at the same time. This is Joost and Schulman again, inviting the viewer to pay attention, because any movement in the frame of the multi-camcorder footage could reveal something monumental.

The cast, especially the adult newcomers Smith and Bittner, handle all the bumps and spooks with pure naturalism. They really make it seem like a documentary, with even the modern horror movie cliché of “the babysitter” making a nice comic and terror-filled cameo. The child actors are simply great, they punctuate what they’re going through by being as blessedly normal as possible, which makes the shifts they go through all the more spooky. Childhood innocence, and that innocence lost, is a major theme in setting up the story.

Chloe Csengery as Young Katie and Jessica Tyler Brown as Young Kristi Rey in ‘Paranormal Activity 3’
Sleep is hard to come by in a scene from ‘Paranormal Activity 3’
Photo credit: © 2011 Paramount Pictures

The peculiar narrative takes a while to gather steam, but that is part of the fun. Longtime admirers of the Paranormal Activity film series can gather clues from the short prologue, and the way Joost and Schulman expand the “PA3” story from there (with help from screenwriters Christopher B. Landon and Oren Pell) has to satisfy even the most compulsive fans. This is bump-in-the-night greatness, perfect for the Halloween holiday.

We all have a love/hate relationship with being scared, especially when interacting with fictions such as books or movies. This film will maximize that relationship, creating saucer-eyes by the end. In the realm of the raised goose pimple, the seasonal timing couldn’t have been better.

“Paranormal Activity 3” opens everywhere October 21st. Featuring featuring Lauren Bittner, Chloe Csengery, Christopher Nicholas Smith, Dustin Ingram, Katie Featherstone and Sprague Grayden. Screenplay by Christopher B. Landon and Oren Pell. Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Rated “R” Click here for the HollywoodChicago interviews of Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, during the promotional tour for “Catfish.”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2011 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

manny world's picture

Paranormal Activity 3

Man, what a rip off. The only scary part of this is how the hell did they make a record of $54 million at the box office?

Manny be down's picture

Paranormal Activity 3

Man, it’s getting me ready for Halloween. I can’t wait for PA4!

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