If you’re even remotely interested in Paranormal Activity 3, you’ve probably already seen the previous two entries in the series. And by now, you should already be accustomed to how this franchise works: someone in the house notices something freaky is going on, then sets up cameras to document it. Paranormal Activity 3 is no different, and that’s either good or bad depending on if the formula works for you or not.
This third movie attempts to explain the origins of the haunting that centers around sisters Katie and Kristi. Without spoiling too much of the story, let’s just say that the activity that’s been following the girls is premeditated, planned possibly well before their birth.
But is it scary?
Only if you buy into what’s happening to the characters. If you don’t believe for a second that the poltergeist activity you see on screen could actually happen to someone, then this movie won’t freak you out as much as it will some people. Because fear — like many other emotions that movies try to conjure up within us — is subjective, I can’t review this movie based on if this was “scary” or not (but for the sake of complete disclosure, I did have a hard time sleeping after viewing this). However, what I can judge are the inventiveness of the frights and how well this movie is trying to tie up all the loose ends of the origin story first established in the original Paranormal Activity.
What the filmmakers, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman of Catfish fame, probably realized when starting production on this movie was that the audience won’t fall for the exact same scares this time around. Things need to be amped up, and new twists placed on old tricks. In that regard, PA3 succeeds (or fails) because it makes the scares more “in-your-face” than before. In the first movie, a lot of the frights were based off of old fears that most people have when in their house at night. The creaks and groans of old floorboards, hung picture frames mysteriously off-center, doors closing without being touched. The second film followed the same formula, but with the focus turning more towards story than scares — it’s the second movie where we learn that Katie and Micah are not just the unfortunate owners of a haunted house, but are being targeted for a specific reason.
In Paranormal Activity 3, there are no bumps in the night, but there is thrown furniture, doors slamming, and children physically being assaulted by this presence. If the previous movie unnerved you in any way, this will certainly cause you to lose some sleep. Thought that having a little girl’s bed covers shift around by themselves was creepy? How about having her pulled a foot off the ground by her hair? Whatever this thing is that’s haunting this family makes its presence known as physically as possible. You even get to see it (sort of) here and there, like when dust falls on it and you can see its outline, or in quick, blurry dark waves of motion as it rampages through a room throwing furniture everywhere.
For those worried the filmmakers are throwing subtlety out of the window completely, rest assured. While this is probably the most violent of the movies so far, many of the frights rely on patience from the audience. There’s a moment in the film where Dennis, the father figure to the little girls, needs to come up with a solution to videotaping the living room and kitchen with just one camera. He mounts the camera on an oscillating fan — stripped of the fan itself — and lets it pan left and right while the camera records. All of the scenes filmed via this perspective test the audience’s nerves as the camera slowly pans from one side to the other. Every time the camera started to move, everyone in the theatre anxiously waited to see what the camera pan would reveal. Most of the time, it was nothing, but sometimes it was something pretty damn freaky (and involving an ingenious use of a bed sheet). It’s filmmaking techniques that are the real highlight of the Paranormal Activity franchise.
Oh, and don’t worry about having the trailer spoil anything for you. Almost nothing from the trailer is used in the movie itself, and the “Bloody Mary” scene from the teaser is completely different when shown in context. Watch the trailers all you want, because you’re not seeing anything that’s in the final product.
For viewers who have kept up with the PA story, this movie answers about as many questions as it leaves open. The true origin of the family haunting is still a mystery, but you do still see how the activity began with the two sisters. For anyone with an interest in this kind of stuff will notice how the Paranormal Activity story follows all the traditional tropes of a family haunting. It’s never the house that’s haunted, but the people within it, and whatever is doing the haunting is doing it for a reason. We learned from the previous films that someone in their family had made a pact or agreement with some very nasty things in return for something, and now this malevolent force is here to collect.
And that’s just about all we know, story-wise. Again, this movie doesn’t really answer a whole lot, but appears to be made for fans of the series who are eager for more the thrills they’ve come to love and fear. I could say that this movie is scary because I jumped more than a few times, but would it be scary to others? If you’ve enjoyed the other Paranormal Activities, then you already know the answer to that question. If invisible evil entities stomping around a house sound like a bunch of baloney to you, then don’t waste your time.
If I could suggest one thing to those willing to brave another night with Kristi and Katie, do so with other people. Freaking out and jumping in your seat is more fun when there are others to laugh nervously with you.