What was truly scary about the first two films in the “Paranormal Activity” franchise was that the malevolent demon that was the focus of the movies was never explicitly shown to viewers via the faux home video footage presented on-screen. Both movies succeeded in maximizing audience’s fears by never depicting their villain, which proved to be a successful way of planting fear in the viewer’s mind. The first two films played off the fact that you could only, at most, see shadows, never the full-figure of the demon terrorizing the central characters, forcing you to experience most of the horror indirectly through the protagonists’ expressions or reactions. Of course, this also meant that imagining what the demon actually looked like was a task left purely to the imagination, or as an even scarier thought, the fact that it may be impossible to figure out what the demon looks like at all.
As the latest installment of the Paranormal “trilogy” (I expect they’ll call the recently announced “Paranormal 4” the start of a new trilogy, a la Pirates of the Caribbean), “Paranormal Activity 3” is set in 1988 as a prequel to the other films. The problem with the prequel though is that it discards most of what made the first two movies so scary. In “Paranormal 3,” the shadowy, mysterious demon is finally given a name, “Toby,” as the imaginary friend of the toddler-age Kristi from the second film. Unfortunately, the “humanization” of the demon isn’t the only thing that makes him less scary. “Toby,” though still invisible to the audience, is also revealed to have a physical form. If the mystery and vague representation of the demon in the first movies was what made them so scary, this is where “Paranormal Activity” has strayed from that successful formula.
Fortunately, however, the movie makes up for this mistake by using the franchise’s signature found-footage style production to build tension while showing increasingly unsettling “footage” of the depicted haunting, all of which is much more frightening than what is shown in “Paranormal Activity 3’s” predecessors. For example, the first “Paranormal Activity” shows characters being dragged out of bed by the demon. What happens to the characters in Paranormal Activity 3 however, is much worse.
Overall, “Paranormal Activity 3” is far more terrifying than both of the previous movies combined thanks to the further shocking and incredibly disturbing scenes portrayed this time. It’s at least scarier than the $10.50 you’ll end up paying for your ticket, and that in itself should be reason enough to go see it.
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