Continuing the exploration of mysterious hauntings in Katie and Kristi’s family from the first two films in the series, Paranormal Activity 3 takes an already successful formula and manages to improve upon it. Catfish directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost create another suspenseful and terrifying entry into a franchise that’s become a staple for Paramount.
After a brief introduction to the characters from previous films talking about old home videos, this movie flashes back to 1988 and details the inciting incident in the childhoods of Katie and Kristi. Their mother Julie thinks Kristi is going through a phase with an imaginary friend, but her new boyfriend Dennis (the clear protagonist this time out) is shocked to find out there is much more going on than anyone anticipated. The acting is pretty solid from everyone involved, including the child actors (which is a shocking statement if you know me and my stance on kids in film). The girl who plays young Kristi is especially creepy, and there are a couple of secondary characters – the grandmother, Dennis’ best friend Randy – who round out the cast with some great moments, including a phenomenal scene in which Randy and Katie play Bloody Mary in the bathroom (which is notably different from the trailer, which shows Katie and Kristi playing the game).
I’m convinced that the biggest star of these films is someone who’s never actually seen on camera at all: the editor. This movie is a master class in building and releasing tension, and it makes this franchise one of the most frightening I’ve ever seen. It’s not the script that gets everyone riled up – this story is essentially a Poltergeist rip-off from one of my least favorite directors of year, Christopher B. Landon – it’s the editing. Rarely does a movie make me examine each shot so closely, constantly scanning the frame for signs of things that are out of the ordinary. It’s exhausting watching these films, and by the time they reach their conclusions, there’s always a no-holds-barred rumble with the demon haunting these characters.
Paranormal Activity 2 added to the structure of the first film by adding security cameras to the mix; instead of scouring the image from just one camera set up over the main couple’s bed, we watched multiple security cameras as they rotated through the feed, giving us more images to pour over. For me, the goal is always to try to spot the abnormality as quickly as possible; it minimizes the scariness if I know what to look for and where it’s coming from. Trouble is, the filmmakers are onto me and my train of thought. In PA3, they’ve added yet another element to the fray, and it’s perhaps the scariest yet – an oscillating fan with a camera attached to it. It may sound stupid if you haven’t seen the movie, but if you’ve witnessed it, you know that the unyielding and indiscriminate back and forth motion is responsible for some of the film’s scariest moments.
I don’t know if I can say I actually enjoyed this film because it scared the hell out of me, but it’s certainly more of the same tension-filled frightening moments this series is known for. In other words, if you liked the first two, you’ll like this one. And I know I gave Chris Landon crap earlier, but I have to applaud one quick line he wrote regarding memory loss that allows this movie to seamlessly transition into future films. Until next time…