Opening in theaters Friday, October 21
Christopher Nicholas Smith as Dennis
Lauren Bittner as Julie
Chloe Csengery as Young Katie
Jessica Tyler Brown as Young Kristi
Dustin Ingram as Randy
Katie Featherston as Katie
Sprague Grayden as Kristi Rey
The Paranormal Activity series has just kicked things up a few notches for the better. Left a bit soured by the been there done that nature of the first sequel, last year’s Paranormal Activity 2, I’m happy to report the third film is a far superior entry that intensifies the series’ haunted house shenanigans and evolves the mythology in chilling new ways. And while this one is set in the ’80s, the timeframe isn’t forced upon the narrative to elicit any wink-wink nostalgia. This is simply a straight-up scarefest set in that decade which utilizes the technology of the time.
The refreshing aspect about this sequel is the focus on the children – a young Kate and Kristi, sisters who come to learn something evil has taken residence in their bedroom closet. It’s the attack on their innocence and the aggressiveness with which these assaults occur that really heightens the danger this time around. And all of this is documented via the creative camera placement of their stepfather, a professional wedding videographer who gets the notion to install cameras around the house when strange things begin to occur at the outset of the film.
Paranormal Activity 3 starts with the usual business and actually feels like a Poltergeist and Amityville Horror remake in disguise. The parents here, Dennis and Lauren, enjoy a good late-night pot smoking session every so often (sharing a scene much like the Freelings had in Poltergeist) and Dennis has entered into a marriage where his wife already has children (similar to Amityville‘s George Lutz). And shades of Carol Anne bleed through Kristi’s relationship with an “imaginary friend.” All of this, combined with the tried and true “bumps in the night” these films are known for, makes for a familiar, mediocre story set-up.
It really isn’t until Dennis and Lauren hire a babysitter to watch over the girls one night that Paranormal Activity 3 elevates itself out of something common and into finding its own unique way to orchestrate the scares. And the way the babysitter sequence’s creepy events play out is really a testament to the directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s ingenuity. These are the two that played on expectations and reality in Catfish, and the jury was out on whether they could evoke the frights Paranormal 3 needed. Well, they certainly deliver, and once this babysitter scene happens, the film just gets better from there. Poor Kristi and Katie are relegated to being on constant guard and any barriers of safety are completely dropped. The audience can do nothing but watch as their terror plays out.
Paranormal Activity 3 also goes where the previous entries have not gone before: Outside of the house. Granted, it travels from one location to another, but in a successful effort to expand the mythology, the audience is transported beyond the confines of the spooky abode and into another danger altogether for a conclusion that is a helluva kick to the gut.
All of the actors are solid. Dennis doesn’t come across as the alpha male douche the male leads have felt like in the previous films. He’s proactive, and the script calls for him to play off a supporting character named Randy, who is Dennis’ assistant in the wedding video biz. Randy’s introduction is welcome and he’s called upon to be involved in some truly creepy stuff. The only “non-believer” of the bunch is Lauren, and there’s some good tension that arises when Dennis repeatedly tries to bring certain information to her attention.
I’ve said it elsewhere on this site recently, but I think the Paranormal team has one more chapter left in them and then they should call it quits. The die hard fans of the series are going to love this film and the radical direction it takes, and it’s very likely they’re going to be searching for answers to questions this film brings up. As for those who are not concerned with the mythology and just want to be rattled, Paranormal Activity 3 certainly does not disappoint.