Paranormal Activity 3
Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Screenplay by Christopher B. Landon
Katie Featherston as Katie
Sprague Grayden as Kristi Rey
Lauren Bittner as Julie
Chloe Csengery as Young Katie
Christopher Nicholas Smith as Dennis
Jessica Tyler Brown as Young Kristi Rey
How long is Paranormal Activity 3? 89 minutes.
What is Paranormal Activity 3 rated? R for some violence, language, brief sexuality and drug use.
The Devil And Me And Teddy Makes Three
Paranormal Activity 3 was inevitable. This is the horror franchise that people love to hate, but still keep paying to see. Rather than introduce another parallel timeline to the first two chapters, this movie serves as a full-blown prequel. We will now witness the harrowing events of 1988, when protagonists Kristi and Katie were little girls together. As it turns out, they have already been through the familiar regimen of being taped while they sleep. When troublesome things stir in the night, the girls’ video-geek stepfather Dennis decides to capture and track the phenomena with nightly surveillance footage. In other words, he assumes the same role as Micah Sloat in the first film, only working in analog, and for the record is far less irritating a character.
Paranormal Activity 2 was an interlocking piece of the original Paranormal Activity. Part 3 is more of a tangential riff. All this footage apparently made up a box of home videos stolen from Kristi’s house, which burglary prompted the setup of their home security system in Part 2. How or why we are seeing these old tapes is a total mystery, and it makes everything just a little bit weirder and more interesting. This new entry has a lot of problems, but it is easily the best of the films so far. If this had stood alone and been released by itself as Paranormal Activity, a lot of us would not be so down on the franchise as we are.
The premise is tired. The setup is just as clunky as before, and the conclusion more ambiguous and muddled than usual. However, in their efforts to keep frightening the audience, the filmmakers have invented better games. Someone got the memo that people being dragged around by invisible forces looks more silly than scary. The ghostly manifestations are more subtle in this chapter, relying as much on bumps in the night as on people and things flying violently about.
The plot revolves around little Kristi and her imaginary friend, Toby. Toby lives in a crawlspace near where Kristi and Katie sleep. As it turns out, he is real (big surprise!) and trying to seduce Kristi like any good incubus will do. Standing in the way are the protective instincts of her parents, her older sister, and even her sweet 80s-vintage babysitter. In order of importance to Kristi’s safety, each of these gets an increasingly bitter taste of what a demon scorned can do.
This movie has a more discernible plot structure than the previous chapters, and in the final act we change locations and shed the fixed-camera magic show for what basically amounts to a genuinely frightening walk through a haunted house. A visit to grandmother’s provides a whole new series of unfamiliar rooms and hallways, so that we no longer know the most predictable corners for scary things to appear. Under the circumstances, you or I could never be persuaded to lug a camera around while exploring the dark side of a grandma’s house. Then again, how else would we see what happened if Dennis suddenly lost interest in documenting the mystery for us?
Paranormal Activity 3 stretches the justification of a constantly running camera even thinner than before. To call it a satire of the 1980s-era obsession with home video would probably be giving it too much credit. At times, the director seems to wise up and ignore the construct altogether. Dramatic confrontations between mom and dad are staged more or less like scenes in a normal film. Also, why would Dennis film himself working quietly all night, except to intercut it with evil events going on in the house simultaneously?
A heightened sense of mystery works in this movie’s favor. By offering a rather vague explanation of the events but leaving some key “what the hell” moments unexplained, Paranormal Activity 3 inspires an atmosphere of dread far more effectively than Parts 1 or 2.
The cast deserves a lot of the credit for making Part 3 unusually palatable. The parents, Julie and Dennis, are more likable than Kristi and her stupid husband (whose name I don’t care to look up) grew up to be. There are no psychics or exorcists or superstitious Latina maids to break the tension with their eye-rolling antics. The two little girls who play Katie (Chloe Csengery) and especially Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) are absolutely precious. Their convincing sisterly interaction carries any dramatic weight this movie has. And it does have a little. Nearly tied with the babysitter’s ghostly adventure midway through the film, my favorite scene has got to be Katie’s face to face encounter with Toby, the imaginary friend she has been mocking to Kristi’s face for a solid hour. These are good little naturalistic child actresses. They are a welcome break from the forlorn, bickering thirty-somethings we know they will eventually be.
The various period touches are nice and not overbearing. Julie’s hair is suitably retro, for starters. All the analog video decks will delight hipsters and the nostalgic alike. Those who were children about the same time as Kristi and Katie may never look back on Teddy Ruxpin or the Lite Brite in quite the same way. This is still a long way from a great horror movie, but it rises significantly above the legacy of its parent films.
It was not until several hours after the film ended that I realized the abrupt, rather disappointing ending is a pretty good homage to the classic “recovered Satanic ritual memory” trope. This, and its frequent nods to Poltergeist, augment the fragile respectability it has built for itself. With that sentiment grudgingly confessed, the best Halloween treat of all would be to have a crop of completely original horror films in 2012. A year without Saw has been like a beautiful dream come true.