All AMC Shows
Movies on AMC
When I saw the first Paranormal Activity in 2007, I loved the haunted-condo horror. I grew up in Southern California watching The Addams Family and believing the supernatural, like the Salem Witch trials, happened to other people, in older places. We had sunshine even when the rest of the world had cloudy days.Paranormal Activity turned that sense of suburban safety on its head.
What makes Paranormal Activity 3 and the rest of the series different is that they reflect real contemporary domestic drama. In some ways the desperation and delights of ordinary life come across clearer in this trilogy than they do in earnest indie pics, and less overwrought than an Oscar-bait movie like Carnage.Female characters dominate PA3: the two grown-up sisters in the movie's prolog, the sisters as girls, their mother, their grandmother, and a babysitter. One of the reasons the series appeals is the unvarnished nature of the women in the cast, women whose act it is to appear like they're not acting, or are not even the best actresses; women with thighs.
In this outing, pretty but not gorgeous single mother Julie and her two daughters, Katie and Kristi, adjust to the recent addition of Mom's younger live-in lover, Dennis. This is a common enough situation, the stuff of advice columns and coffee klatches. There's a sense of unease under the surface: How will the addition of this male, and his sexing up of Mom's life, impact the three females in the family?
And because the new man in their life is a videographer, his fetish for filming everything -- from the birthday party break-the-piñata climax to awkward sex with Mom to pulling a MacGyver on a household fan so that he can pan the kitchen-living room for psychic phenomena -- puts all their relationships under increased scrutiny.
The result is intentionally low-key: soap opera without the soap. It's also horror without the Hollywood touches of movie stars we recognize (Scream's Drew Barrymore), heavy makeup or expensive décor. What began in 2007's Paranormal Activity out of low-budget necessity has become a stylistic imperative.
This is not the Alfred Hitchcock of Psycho and Vertigo with his icy blondes. It's not Wes Craven, with his sexy super-aware teens. Or the moody Method Juliet, Bella Swan, of the Twilight saga. This is Gidget gone gory, the girls-next-door with a grim legacy.
One of the series' trademarks is that while women can be victims, they're not solely defined as such. These aren't torture porn or slasher films with screaming Jamie Lee Curtis wannabes -- both sub-genres with lesser appeal to most women.
The movie's core suspense arises from a real, common parenting issue: The youngest daughter has an invisible friend. Most kids do. My daughter had another, better mother -- a variation on Coraline.
As a parent, do you take the new friend seriously? Do you talk to the empty chair at the tea party? At what point do you begin to wonder if there's something seriously wrong with your kid, since the invisible friend seems to be making increasingly strange and potentially dangerous demands?
Rarely does a parent reach the extreme conclusion that the friend may not have a body but it does have a spirit. And that spirit's malevolent. One of the reasons PA3 succeeds so well is that as a mother or a daughter, you connect with this dynamic. It's a child-rearing trope exaggerated to the point of demons. And that's what makes it so compelling, particularly to women: It puts its finger in the socket of our everyday fears.
What appeals -- particularly to women -- is the way this movie wraps its terror in the bland, typically boring world of split-level condos. Even the weather beyond the drapes never turns stormy like it did in Hammer Horrors like Dracula. PA3 harnesses the loneliness of the stuck-at-home mother living beyond the strip mall and turns it into terror. When Julie becomes unhinged by the occasional grumble of the ice-maker and the burble of the fish-tank filter, she's both ashamed of that unreasonable fear in her suburban cocoon and in absolute denial that demons could find their way to sunny Southern California.
PA3 homes in on what women want: to see themselves, unvarnished and unapologetic, at the very center of the story.