Where This Meets That
I recently hailed the first two Paranormal Activity films as must-sees in the horror genre. This past weekend, I got to check out the third installment, and . . . well . . . hmmm . . . .
The “formula” is intact – the chills and innovative camerawork are still there – but this time around it feels forced.
In the original, the lead character’s fidelity to filming in the scariest circumstances is made plausible by his insistence on building a case and trying to find a solution. In the second, much of the key footage comes from security cameras, so it’s not like grabbing the nearest video camera is the family’s first reflex when something goes bump in the night; the baby’s guardians are more concerned with the baby than with the video opportunity.
In Paranormal Activity 3, however, there are times where the film’s context loses plausibility, reducing the first person perspective to mere gimmickry. For instance, quick poll here . . .
If you’re in an unfamiliar home and you’re looking for your girlfriend and her two children in the wee hours of the night, fearing they are in danger, do you:
A) Turn on all the lights and do a thorough search before calling the police?
B) Pick up your video camera and use its trusty spotlight to show the way as you search for everyone through its viewfinder?
You got it! In Paranormal Activity 3, the answer is a resounding “B”. That’s not to say that this third installment has killed the franchise, only set it back. And since its ending makes a part 4 all but inevitable, the potential is there to save it.
As with the first two, the film uses innovative ways of incorporating the camera as a device for suspense. The original was basically filmed from a single camera either shoulder- or tripod-mounted the whole time. As mentioned above, the second film one supplemented the home video camera with security cameras placed around the residence. The latest installment includes a nifty twist by mounting a camera atop a modified oscillating room fan motor.
As a plot device, this allows the lead male character, Dennis, to capture more of the home on film as they sleep at night. For the audience, it is a wonderful little trick for building suspense; if you see something when the camera pans one direction, your glimpse will be brief and you are powerless to look back to study it closer. By the time the camera returns, things might have changed altogether. In general, it is a brilliant technique that contributes to some of the creepiest moments in the film (i.e., the ghost sheet).
As a part of the series, however, part 3 doesn’t seem as cohesive. This is largely due to a final 15 minutes that take an unexpected (unwelcome?) turn toward the cliche. Much has been made about several scenes included in the trailer that are not in the actual film. These omitted scenes do leave some big voids, such as the home burning down, which does NOT occur in the movie. Presumably some of these will be included as alternate footage when the DVD is released in time for the Christmas rush or perhaps even worked into a part 4. As is, though, they leave an underachieving part 3.
I think there should be a part 4 that bridges part 3 with the original, but part of me thinks that it’s a good time to change the approach and not lock the storyline into a first-person perspective. Maybe build an extra year into the schedule for fine-tuning, too.