It’s pretty clear that Paranormal Activity is the new Saw. Being able to make a killing in the box office on a teeny, tiny budget is something that Hollywood seems to really be able to get behind. Fortunately, the Paranormal Activity franchise is still young and hasn’t fallen into the “only tripling their budget in the box office” area that seems to have killed Saw (perhaps with good reason). I’m pleased as punch with that because, despite my initial misgivings with the first film, I loved the second one. A third installment was inevitable and I really hoped it would follow Molly Ephraim’s character and her exploits following the end of the second film. Like, really hoped. She was too fine. Anyways…
When I saw the trailer for Paranormal Activity 3, I was impressed by the super-creepy Bloody Mary scene, but disappointed that it was a prequel and unsure about how they could possibly pull off a found footage movie in the same vein of the ‘constant surveillance’ feel of the first two films while staying true to the technological and budgetary constraints of the 1980’s. Despite this, I was excited about more creepy happenings and more people shrieking in the theater ever five minutes. So, did Paranormal Activity 3 deliver? Was it believable? Could it possibly compare to the awesome finale of the second film? Read on to find out!
Paranormal Activity 3
Director: Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost
The film actually begins at some point shortly before the first two films take place, before Kristi has her baby, which would prove to be the focus of the second film. Her sister Katie comes by to check out the baby’s nursery and also to ask if she can store some boxes in their basement while she moves. Inside these boxes are VHS tapes from 1988. Cut to some time later, during the time of Paranormal Activity 2, right after their house was burglarized, and Kristi and husband Dan find the tapes have been taken. Then, it abruptly switches to the VHS tapes themselves and our real story, the story of Kristi, Katie, and Toby, begins.
Dennis, live-in boyfriend of Katie and Kristi’s mother, smoking hot MILF Julie, is a wedding videographer. During a delightfully awkward attempt at making a sex tape where the earth literally moves (thanks to an earthquake), Dennis notices what appears to be an invisible figure in the room. Naturally, Julie pish-poshes the notion, but as things begin to get creepier and creepier, Dennis sets up a small gaggle of cameras around the house and soon learns that, if nothing else, little Kristi’s imaginary friend Toby might not be so imaginary.
The little things, like Dennis being a wedding videographer, Julie’s mother making comments about him using Julie’s credit card the extra cameras, and the fact that there were only three (maybe four) cameras altogether, really made it a lot more believable than I could’ve imagined. With a small exception here or there, the creepy effects were fantastic and it really looked like (admittedly well-preserved) VHS home movies from the 80’s.
The acting was surprisingly great. Christopher Nicholas Smith, who plays Dennis, and Lauren Bittner, who lays Julie were both very good. Watching them get high (which brought visions of the beginning of Poltergeist to mind) and then attempt to make a sex tape was really believable. The scene was as awkward as I imagine it must be for most couples who aren’t in the public eye that decide to record their exploits, and found a lot of charm in that. Bittner is unfortunately wedged into the Scully category of “LALALA NOTHING’S GOING ON, OH SHI-“ but it works well enough for the story. The real star, of course, is Jessica Tyler Brown, who plays young Kristi. She is shy, adorable, and haunted and radiates all of these things at the same time. Dustin Ingram, from the fantastic Meet Monica Velour, plays Dennis’s cohort and probably the sanest adult in the film, and has an absolutely fantastic scene (likely my favorite, save for the entire climax) opposite Chloe Csengery, who plays young Katie. Lastly, we have Julie’s mother (who’s actress I cannot currently find on the IMDb page) was only in a few scenes but serves an important role and does it well.
Another thing I was simply elated with was the fact that nearly all the creepy stuff from the trailers isn’t in the film. There’s still a Bloody Mary scene, but with a different combination of characters. Kristi still tells her mother that Toby is standing right next to them, but she doesn’t splash water on him. The scene where Julie is pulled (or thrown?) backwards is completely absent. Final Destination 5 teased us with red herrings in their trailers, but that stuff still happened. Paranormal Activity 3 just made more creepy scenes to lure us in and keep us on our toes and they get big kudos for that. The finale itself was far more exciting than the last two and was reminiscent of The Last Exorcism, one of my favorite films of 2010. The seeds are sown throughout the movie and intuitive viewers will likely deduce what’s going on, and there’s a pretty big payoff.
Conversely, and this is a double-edged sword, there’s still a lot of unanswered questions. Who or what is watching these tapes and why? Who is Toby? Why does he live in the girls’ crawlspace? Is that actually Bloody Mary? There’s more, but I don’t want to give anything away. On the one hand, I really want answers to these questions, but at the same time they don’t talk it to death. I mean, it’s a found footage film, we don’t know anything more than the characters do. That is something I can appreciate, even if it leaves me wanting for more.
The great thing about Paranormal Activity 3 is that it’s different from the first two. Yes, there’s a family being haunted. Yes, there’s long, drawn out scenes where creepiness MAY happen (though most scenes had payoff in this one). Yes, the last scene is the best part of the movie. But the dynamic is different. In the first film, you have basically two people for an hour and a half. In the second one you had a family, but the daughter was a teenager and the baby was, well, a baby. In this film, you have little girls. If there’s one thing people like King, Kubrick, and Arbus have proved, it’s that little girls are inherently creepy. Little girls who have an ‘imaginary’ friend are even creepier. If and when they make a fourth film, it will be interesting to see how they manage to keep the dynamic fresh, but I look forward to it.
Paranormal Activity 3 is a great example of a prequel. It fills in a lot of holes introduced in the second film without totally tipping its hand. I would’ve liked to see something similar to the second film, where it’s a prequel AND a sequel, but I sat through the credits, an old Paramount logo, more credits, and a second, newer Paramount logo and was left in the dark. Literally. The trailers had been messed up so the automatic timer for the lights wasn’t set to go off yet. It worked for me, since we’d just watched Paranormal Activity, and I was certainly amused by all the people who don’t know how to get out of a dark theater without waving their iPhones around like a ship lost at sea. This film has pretty much everything I could’ve asked for in the third installment of the new Halloween season franchise king except a glimpse of what to expect next, and I think I’m looking forward to being surprised. If they can continue to make these movies entertaining and profitable while keeping the suspense and atmosphere and still present something new, I’m all in. If you’re looking for a scary movie to see this Halloween, look no further than Paranormal Activity 3.