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Some readers may remember that, generally speaking, I didn’t really like the first two Paranormal Activity films very much. I understand their appeal, I appreciate their frugality, and I’m always happy when the horror genre gets a boost in popularity, but I can’t find much personal enjoyment in the series. I find it entirely impossible to care at all about the mythology of these films, and am kind of baffled that the series has remained so steadfast with its continuity. I can barely remember the whys and hows between films, and feel like the harder they push continuity, the harder it is to suspend my disbelief. By the end of this latest entry, which recounts series regulars Kristi and Katie’s childhood and then reveals the reason for their future problems, so much of the back-story has been filled in that the mystique of the unseen villain is entirely evaporated. Turns out (spoiler) that the Paranormal Activity demon is a sort of jilted, lovesick pedophile (/spoiler). This film also revisits/mimics the character dynamics of the previous films. Perhaps it’s meant as a character critique on the older versions of the girls that they end up being their mother and basically marrying their father, but it feels more like the filmmakers are filling a formula than being creative. It’s obviously difficult to create an organic narrative (however vague) through the patented found-footage editing process, so I have a grudging respect for the mostly uneventful plotlines in these films, but still find them largely mind-numbingly boring. Paranormal Activity 3 is probably the least boring of the three, but there’s still a lot of nothing to cull to get to the scares. The character ‘dynamics’ aren’t remotely interesting enough to hold the hour and ten minutes where nothing happens.

Paranormal Activity 3: Unrated Director's Cut
There is an art to the steady stillness of these films, and this third entry definitely sees the production improving on their early productions in purely technical terms. The lopped-off, largely silent sequences effectively invite the audience to stare blankly, over-analyzing every square inch of the frame for something scary, this being something the new generation of found footage films have borrowed from late-‘90s J-Horror. This is a tweaked and oiled machine. If we’re critiquing it based purely on the filmmaker’s goal to create a bigger and better scare the problem still arises that the scares just aren’t here. The biggest jump in the whole movie is a fake out. The filmmakers explore a little new ground for the series, specifically anything that relates to the children, and their general creepiness (they explore small dark spaces, they talk to imaginary friends, they get deathly ill and scare the hell out of their parents). Much of Paranormal Activity 2 revolved around a baby and a teenager, but neither character was presented as possibly dangerous. There’s a sizably larger eerie quotient in this film missing from the ‘boo’ heavy previous films, though still less than I tend to get out of more traditional, narratively driven pictures. I dig the retro analogue video editing stuff (creating a moving camera by recycling a fan is quite clever), but wish they would’ve utilized the inherently creepy quality of aged analogue video. Perhaps it’s just my age, but I find tracking marks kind of terrifying.

Paranormal Activity 3: Unrated Director's Cut

Video


Once again the quality of video here depends on the camera being used and the lighting on a given scene. I’m still a little irked by the fact that the supposed VHS video is 1080p, 1.78:1 HD widescreen, but understand why the production chose to go with the higher quality image. Outside of stylistic complaints and patented shortcomings this is a very handsome and sharp Blu-ray image, probably the best in the collection (despite the misleading poster art there’s actually not a lot night vision footage in this film, if any). The night scenes are still reasonably grainy, and dark warm spots feature a bit of digital noise, but overall this is a crisp and clean image featuring a whole lot of detail despite a general lack of hard lighting. The garish ‘80s production design gives way to some relatively complex patterns that would likely turn to mush in standard definition, though fine texture aren’t so much an issue either way due to a relative softness of contrast levels. The colour palette leans towards the warm for a much of the film, and there’s little issue with colour purity or gradient blends.

Paranormal Activity 3: Unrated Director's Cut

Audio


The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack sounds about the same as the previous two releases in that it’s largely silent and made up of natural centered sounds. The aural canvass does open up on occasion, usually for a blaringly loud scare. Apparently the wider the dynamic range, the more successful the scare. More often than not the sound comes from the front channels and is accompanied by a healthy LFE throb. There’s a hint of directional movement to these out-of-silence scares. The biggest audio moments include a bass-heavy earthquake early in the film, and the ghost-attacks that start the final act, which features all manner of rattling, roaring and screaming. Here the surround and stereo channels really come alive and directional movement turns quite aggressive. Not Drag Me to Hell aggressive, but still pretty aggressive. Surprisingly the utter absence of sound actually works quite well, such as a bit where a little girl jumps from a high point with no crash.

Extras


Once again the only extra outside the longer version of the film and a few Paramount trailers, is a deleted scenes section entitled Lost Tapes (3:10, HD). This one features a ‘scare montage’ (characters scaring each other) and Dennis’ commercial for his production company.

Paranormal Activity 3: Unrated Director's Cut

Overall


As I started making notes while watching Paranormal Activity 3 my opinion was much more positive. I’d heard from the press materials, reviews, and reactions that the entire film was a build up to a shattering, balls-to-the-wall climax, and assuming this was true the first hour-plus was a decent build-up. Then I reached the end credits and realized nothing particularly frightening had occurred, which made the bulk of the entire experience a waste of energy. Those of you that enjoyed the film in theaters, or those OCD enough to just want a complete collection of discs can look forward to a sharp (entirely un-VHS) 1080p image, an aggressive DTS-MA soundtrack, and a few deleted scenes. The rest of you should probably just rent this disappointing third entry.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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