The freakiest thing about Paranormal Activity 3 isn’t the lights turning on and off or doors slamming shut, but how these events took place in September 1988 when I was a month old. Beyond that, the third installment of this growing series still uses simple means to generate scares while expanding its narrative and the paranormal activity.
What makes Paranormal Activity interesting is the fact that rather than move forward, each sequel goes backward to present more information on characters and all their strange encounters. Instead of calling Paranormal Activity 3 a sequel, it should be a sprequel (a sequel that’s a prequel). This continues with the third chapter, which is an entertaining interlude that adds to the story but not as much fright.
Paranormal Activity 3 begins before Paranormal Activity 2 on March 2005 in Carlsbad, California, when we are reintroduced to Kristi Rey (Sprague Grayden) and her husband, Daniel (Brian Bolland) as they set up a nursery for Hunter, whom Kristi is pregnant with. Meanwhile, Katie (Katie Featherson) visits her sister, Kristi, and drops off a box of old home movies she found.
The film then transitions to Paranormal Activity 2, after the Rey’s house was broken into with Daniel recording for insurance purposes and noticing the only thing missing are the tapes Katie brought over (as if the demon is watching these films to reminisce about his hauntings).
The screen turns blue as the lost videos begin to play and sets Paranormal Activity 3 in motion with family videos from September 1988. These tapes contain home movies of young Katie (Chloe Csengery) and young Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) growing up in Santa Reese, California with their mom Julie (Lauren Bitter) and stepfather, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith). Things seem normal for this family with nothing out of the ordinary at first.
When Dennis convinces Julie to record them having sex, an earthquake hits and as they run to the kids, the camera captures something strange. After Dennis sees this footage and shows it to his friend, Randy Rosen (Dustin Ingram), he sets up multiple cameras to record more activity. Yet, excitement turns to dread as Katie continues to interact with some being called Trevor and her family finds themselves dealing with forces way out of their control.
Paranormal Activity 3 continues to use unknown actors to play these characters and feel like actual people in recording that have realism. While Bitter makes Julie skeptical to all these happenings, Smith has Dennis approach this eerieness with curiosity and shares this feeling with audiences.
Csengery and Brown ground Katie and Kristi respectively to appear like the childhood versions of these familiar characters. When Katie wakes up at night as her bed moves and items sway back and forth, she is pulled off-screen by an invisible force. It isn’t hard to see this parallel events they will experience in the future.
Choosing Catfish directors, Henry Joost and Ariel Schuman, was not a bad choice. Since Catfish was filmed similarly with handheld cameras, they continue this trend, which allows camera movements and set-ups to be genuine. They nicley create the family dynamic that exists between characters so you care about them as they experience something otherworldly.
An important aspect of Paranormal Activity is suspense, which Joost and Schuman demonstrate. One night when Dennis walks down a corridor and talks to himself, the camera moves calmly to build up the tension as he approaches a door. Limited lighting and silence get one to grab their seat with fear as they anticipate what’s behind creepy door number one.
Joost and Schuman keep Paranormal Activity 3 on the same level as the other films, where imagination is king and what isn’t seen is far scarier (of course, it wouldn’t work without the excellent lighting and sound effect technicians).
When Katie says, “I’m scared” to Dennis, the feeling is mutual for parts of the film since there is terror and suspense but not as much as the others. Most of the scream-out-loud scares come from pranks characters pull on each other than the evil entity…at least until the last half hour. Sadly, a shot of Teddy Rucksum (that old ‘80’s talking bear), was underutilized for scares.
While each film has altered how the protagonist filmed their activity, Paranormal Activity 3 does so with ‘80s technology. This adds to the setting and its retro angle. One fun idea was how Dennis takes apart a fan so he can mount a camera on it and has it pan left to right. Here, the directors play with the viewer since every time the camera moves, you wonder what is happening that I’m not seeing. Although this does get tiring to a point, Schuman and Joost save themselves with one chilling moment that can startle people.
Christopher B. Landon’s (who wrote Paranormal Activity 2) script, based on Oren Peli’s characters, is good by offering an origin for this activity in Katie and Kristi’s lives. He develops ideas from past films further like the photo Katie finds of herself as a kid in the attic in Paranormal Activity. Here, this is brought to life as if Landon noticed there could have been more happening at this time than we expected. Yet, this sequel never feels as complete as the second film since it never goes back to the present and has the tale come full circle.
While this storyline is enhanced, the set-up and execution of the script is becoming familiar with the guys getting wrapped in this mystery and women disregarding them. Mind you this isn’t a bad thing and surprises are still possible, but it can make a viewer see that things repeat in a similar fashion. It would have been cool to change up the formula with Katie getting a camera for her birthday and filming all of this.
However, it feels like much was left out of Paranormal Activity 3 since the trailer showed scenes like the mother talking to the cmaera and then being pulled back by something or having an expert visit the house and get attacked that are absent. The fact that Mark Friedrichs as Dr. Friedrichs is listed in the cast but doesn’t appear at all shows moments were left out and/or possibly saved as a deleted scene in a director’s cut.
Also, other scenes were altered like the Bloody Mary chant (which is scary just writing) that offer horror but not what viewers were prepared for.
Still, Paranormal Activity 3 works because watching a film from a character or camera’s point of view makes people feel like they are a part of the story (i.e. Cloverfield). We become lost like the characters and unsure of what is actually happening due to the limitations. Although using the same found footage format could get tiring, grabbing new directors allows Paranormal Activity to feel brand new again.
Paranormal Activity 3 is not the best one, but it can still haunt viewers with thrills involving the unknown. As the girl’s grandmother eerily said, “Let’s get ready,” toward the end, I can imagine the producers are saying the same about 2012’s activity.
PHOTO COURTESY of thereelbits.com