Paranormal Activity was a step in the right direction for horror. Unfortunately the follow up, Paranormal Activity 2, took audiences a step backward. Lucky for us, Paranormal Activity 3 pushes the found footage franchise two steps forward. With new directors and a terrific cast, PA3 resuscitates the Where’s Waldo of horror movies and brings us the best scares yet.
There is no hokey opening this time around making us believe that any of the footage we are about to see is real. We can most likely thank Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman for this decision; they are the directors of the controversial documentary Catfish and the new directors of Paranormal Activity 3.
As Paranormal Activity 2 brought us back in time a little over a month before the events of the first film in 2006, Paranormal Activity 3 takes us back eighteen years to 1988. This new footage was “found” after a box of VHS tapes mysteriously vanished from the basement of the Rey’s – a retcon of PA2, but nothing to shake a fist at. What may cause you to throw chairs is how the ending doesn’t flow with the established mythology.
The plot of PA3 will either make or break the film for you. If creative scares are enough for you, PA3 is definitely a movie to seek out. The caliber of terrifying moments seen in PA and PA2 combined do not add up to what happens in PA3. But if the story of the series intrigues you, prepare to feel a bit cheated. The first two films do a great job at building the rules and writing the history of Katie and Kristi. Instead of providing answers, PA3 only adds more questions.
Following the formula of the first film, like Micah, we are given a central character who we can latch on to, Dennis (Chris Smith). PA2 bounced around a lot between characters, never determining a main character. Dennis is a sigh of relief, someone who gives the film a voice and provides direction. We never find out his relationship with Katie and Kristi’s mom, Julie (Lauren Bittner), but we assume he’s her boyfriend because he is not the father nor are they married. Julie and Dennis mirror the emotional depth we shared for Micah and Katie from the first film and they perform very well together.
Where Julie and Dennis shine as an adoring couple, with great on-screen chemistry, it is Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) who steal the show. My patience is fairly low with child actors, especially in horror films, but Chloe and Jessica’s are ahead of their age group. With each occurrence of Toby – they named the invisible demon this time around – these young actresses create such remarkably believable performances.
Utilizing handycams once again, the layout of the house is well established from the beginning. The funny thing is, even though it’s “shot” on VHS, the picture quality is very high. They put a slight grain on the film to make it look old-timey, but it is still looks pretty good (at least on blu-ray it does).
The reason for filming works – Dennis is a wedding videographer. After one night of unsuccessfully recording a romp with Julie, he finds something paranormal on the tape and continues to film to see if he can catch anything else on tape. This is where the directors’ ingenuity comes in handy.
To record everything, Dennis always carries around one camera. At night he leaves it propped on a tripod in the bedroom. There’s another camera placed in Katie and Kristi’s loft, and he brilliantly engineers a third camera to rest on top of an oscillating fan so we can see the entire first floor – the living room and kitchen. The biggest logic gap with this is that Dennis would have to use hundreds of VHS tapes and watch every one of them hours at a time.
Right from the start, Joost and Schulman bring out the big guns, building scare after scare, always upping the ante. They work their magic with the budget that they were given, $5 million, and they produce the best instances of horror in the entire franchise. Even multiple viewings of Paranormal Activity 3 will keep you engaged because the haunts are so clever, never predictable.
Since this is the third film of the series, we have to consider the previous entries. Within PA and PA2 we are told that Katie and Kristi were in constant fear and their house burned down. Paranormal Activity 3 dances around these elements, but chooses a different path to go down. This is where fans keeping close tabs on the mythology may begin to scratch their heads.
Right after the climax it is the end where things fall apart. Throughout the entire movie everything works, but in the end the video recording seems out of place, unnecessary, and the tension of the film comes to a halt. And to give the series a twist, for the first time in the franchise we are taken to a different location, one we are unfamiliar with. It feels slightly force.
If Paranormal Activity 3 was created as a standalone film it would have gone down in horror history. Adding new lore to the franchise and not following the mythology truly hurts PA3. But thanks to some fantastic horrifying moments, the chills are enough to make up for the weak storytelling.
Post review spoiler Observations:
As I stated, the original formula of the story is not followed. Kristi makes friends with Toby, which everyone just believes is an imaginary friend. It isn’t until later do we see both girls being terrified about what was happening and we never see their house burning down. The trailer gives us this imagery but it is no where to be seen in the film or deleted scenes. I would like to know why.
My favorite scares includes anything with the babysitter, the kitchen furniture falling, and the dust demon.
The cult involving the grandma was fine, I can accept that, but at least give us closure or reasoning. Don’t introduce something new unless you’re going to tell us why they are important to the franchise’s story.
Taking us to grandma’s house fails in my mind. Introducing a new location at the very end of the film, where we have no familiarity, takes us out of the moment. Now if Kristi asked to have her grandma visit their home, the story still would have worked. The old hags could have all ritualized their Toby orgy there and burn down the house in the end.
And I don’t quite understand why they killed Julie. Why couldn’t they brainwash her like the other women in the cult or why wasn’t Julie already a part of it if she was the daughter of Kristi’s grandma? It doesn’t make sense.
Why don’t they ever mention Kristi or Katie’s father? Were their births immaculate? Are Katie and Kristi the children of Toby? Who knows?