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'Paranormal Activity 3' scares by the numbers, critics say

October 21, 2011 |  2:04 pm

Paranormal Activity 3
Combining the low-budget, found-footage styling of 1999's "The Blair Witch Project" with the franchising aspect of the uber-violent "Saw" films, the "Paranormal Activity" series unleashes its third film Friday, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, known for the 2010 documentary-with-an-asterisk "Catfish." The critical consensus on "Paranormal Activity 3" says the film adheres to a now-familiar formula but still manages to deliver scares and entertainment.

In a review for The Times, Mark Olsen says "Paranormal Activity 3" is "far and away the sharpest, most wildly aware film in the series." Throughout the film, Olsen writes, "there is a newfound wit and invention. The blocking used to get characters (and scares) in and out of shots feels lively and fun, making the jolts hit harder and the thrills giddier." He adds, "All of this proves that Joost and Schulman are real filmmakers and not just stunt artists, more convincing at making a plainly fictional film that purports to be reality than a documentary of shaky authenticity."

Richard Corliss, in Time magazine, deems Joost and Schulman "fine choices to extend the franchise." He writes, "The filmmakers throw in a few cheesy scares: mom in a monster mask, a baby sitter jumping in front of a camera. But the rest is pretty freaking  cool." Corliss notes that the film channels a number of horror classics, and that "the nagging question that rumbles through every haunted-house movie — why don’t they just leave? — gets a long workout before being finally, pleasingly, shudderingly resolved."

The Boston Globe's Ty Burr says that aside from a camera innovation involving a swiveling fan ("It’s mindlessly basic. And it works."), '"Paranormal Activity 3' is almost identical to, and just as eerily effective as, the first two films in its alternation of cheesy 'boo!' tactics and genuine scares." Burr  commends Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown, playing the young girls who grow up to be the protagonists of the first two "Paranormal Activity" films.

Claudia Puig, writing for USA Today, says the latest film "occasionally goes off the rails but also offers more laughs and somewhat more character development than the previous installments." Puig says the film is less claustrophobic and has a bigger cast, and she also highlights the swiveling camera. But, Puig writes, "the freshness of the first film has faded somewhat, as has a degree of terror."

Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips, who calls the "Paranormal Activity" movies "shrewd" and "designed for single-use, one-time consumption," admits that "They work." Of the latest film, Phillips writes, "Like its predecessors the new 'found footage' lark builds tension and dread slowly and sticks it to you just when you need something to happen." Phillips finds the central conceit of the series to be increasingly "ridiculous" but says, "I have been entertainingly spooked by the results each time."

For audiences valuing scares over surprises, "Paranormal Activity 3" could be just the ticket.


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-- Oliver Gettell

Photo: Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown in "Paranormal Activity 3." Credit: Paramount Pictures