Annual horror show provides a sense of normalcy to the audience
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
Things go bump in the night and a camera records the deeds – the “what” of the action, but not exactly the “how” or the “why.” We function under the belief that if we can see — if we have visual proof of an occurrence — then that fact means that we can explain it. But the budding Paranormal Activity franchise throws a kink in that argument, much to the delight of audiences.
When Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) first encounter the force that starts disrupting their home, Micah sets up the cameras. What’s going on? Let’s see it, let’s catch it in action. And so, he (and we, the audience) sees strange happenings, things that can’t be explained and he figures he can keep watching and waiting until an answer comes to him because there has to be some reason for all of the escalating shenanigans. What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, right? Well, what he doesn’t understand ends up killing him.
In part two, the filmmakers step back a bit with the narrative, introducing us to Katie’s sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and her blended family, featuring another husband (Brian Boland) with a penchant for capturing events on camera, again with the assumption that to see or witness an event is to be able to rationalize what is happening. It goes without saying that the results were much the same as the first time.
People die in these home movies, but the desire to watch never dies down. The audience gets teased into theaters in droves to sit back and watch mundane moment upon moment until the force explodes into action, moving curtains and dragging bodies before snapping one in half like a twig. It is a largely bloodless (and gore-less) affair that wastes little (run) time or resources (more in-camera tricks than CGI). The creator behind the phenomenon (Oren Peli) has been able to successfully pass it on to others, first to director Tod Williams (The Door in the Floor) and screenwriters Michael R. Perry (Millennium and The Guardian) and Christopher B. Landon (Disturbia), and now to Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (of Catfish fame) with Landon returning as screenwriter with little or no negative return on the creative investment and it goes without saying that more installments await.
This time, we jump even further back in time, to the late-1980s when Katie and Kristi are just girls (played by Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown, respectively) and their parents (Christopher Nicholas Smith and Lauren Bittner) must contend with the bumpy bumps, although this time, more effort is made to explain the mystery and there’s a real argument to be made for leaving the unexplained, well, unexplained. The reasons and rationales rarely satisfy either curiosity or logic, and as here, only debunk the fun.
But what fun there is to be had if you see Paranormal Activity 3 with an audience of overhyped high school and college-aged kids, the bulls-eye target for this box office weapon of mass destruction. To be among a crowd of people screaming and shouting and talking back to the screen is to step away from the social network and become a member of an actual flesh and blood group of people joined together in fear and wonder. Even if you can see what is going to happen a mile off, you do so with the person sitting next to you, likely someone you don’t know and you haven’t friended on Facebook.
Now that’s a novel idea. Maybe you will bump into them next year.
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com.