Review: Paranormal Activity 3 (15) / Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman / Screenplay: Christopher Landon / Starring: Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown, Christopher Nicholas Smith, Lauren Bittner, Dustin Ingram / Release Date: Out Now
Paranormal Activity is a film that in a lot of ways has led to the deluge of poor imitators you now see clogging up shelves at your local blockbuster. It’s also further evidence that anyone can get a camera and go make a film as long as they have a unique hook. I was about ready to hate this film but dammit Paranormal Activity 3 manages to be better than the first two films in the series.
The plot starts with the sisters from previous films, Katie and Kristie talking about some VHS tapes they have inherited from their parents and during the paranormal events of one of the two films the tapes go missing. It’s not clear when in the series chronology this prologue takes place but it doesn’t really matter, the scene is set. We then go back to 1988 and witness Katie and Kristie as young children, living with their mother and their mother’s nice video making boyfriend Dennis. Kristie has an imaginary friend she calls Toby who sits with her when she plays and seems to have an unhealthy dislike for Katie. After a few bumps in the night, Dennis sets up video cameras around the house to try and capture something and guess what? He does…
If everyone reacted to things making sounds in the middle of the night the way that the characters in these films do then we would literally have thousands of hours’ worth of supposedly supernatural footage on the web. Logic and motivation aside, Catfish directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman do a great job of setting up the dynamic within the family with some great performances from child actors Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown as well as Chris Smith who plays Dennis. Perhaps most importantly this is the first film in the franchise where you actually care about the characters and they are not annoying. Dennis may carry the camera around with little thought of his own safety but if he didn’t we wouldn’t have a film so there.
This film is tense and creepy, with the previous films mining the tension from static shots that drag on for ages and the fear spreading through the audience like a virus as everyone thinks they are about to see something. You get some of that here but mostly it’s about where the directors place the camera and how they frame things. A sequence involving a camera attached to a moving fan and a babysitter is one of the tensest things on screen for ages and it all comes from careful pacing and a simple but effective scare. Another moment when a family friend is stuck in a bathroom with Katie whilst something awful throws a tantrum outside is equally brilliant.
We'll not go into details about the ending of the film but I will simply say that the ending makes you question everything you have seen in the previous films and feels like a natural end to the series. Of course this won’t be the end of the franchise because they are cheap to make and continue to make money but if they were to leave it here it would feel like the natural ending to a franchise that has been hit and miss. Paranormal Activity 3 is a definite hit.
Extras: Extended director's cut and theatrical version, Scare montage, Dennis’ commercial.