Of Paranormal Activity 3, I can tell you this much: Chances are, if the first one didn’t do much for you and you found the second one to be kind of blah and repetitive, there’s no way you’ll like the third one. That’s a fact. The setup and premise are familiar, even if the characters are not. So as such, I can understand someone’s not liking this one much at all. But. I personally found the first and second ones to be pretty scary even when, in the second one, I knew stuff was going to happen. It has to be a good film when you’re surprised even when you expect something, right? So, right or wrong, I loved this movie. It gave me what I was seeking, and more.
Whereas the second film was set shortly before the first one, this film takes a look at the childhood of Katie, the protagonist of the first film. You may recall that as the first movie progressed, Katie became convinced that something was after her specifically but she couldn’t imagine why. This movie attempts to resolve that issue. And you sort of have to give credit to a movie that resolves some things while leaving other threads dangling just enough to make one wonder what the hey is going on.
It’s 1988. Young Katie lives with her younger sister Kristi, her mom Julie, and Julie’s boyfriend Dennis. Strange things are afoot in their house, around the same time that young Kristi begins communicating with an imaginary friend named Toby. Is it a normal kid phase, or is it something more sinister? As with the other films, cameras are placed around the house to capture anything odd that may happen during the night. (In a clever bit of ingenuity, Dennis takes apart an oscillating fan and places a camera on it so that he can pan from living room to kitchen and back.)
What makes a movie like this work for me is the same thing that made The Blair Witch Project work (and its sequel not work at all) it feels voyeuristic, as if we were simply peeking in on some family’s everyday lives. Reasons are given for the constant filming (Dennis tells Kristi, for example, that he’s “testing” his new camera as they have a tea party.) We’re automatically drawn to the video footage. What will we see? We’re now ready for something will it jump out at us? Will furniture be overturned? Or something even worse?
The mood is another huge selling point. People react as you’d expect them to. Dennis is obsessed with finding out what’s causing those noises and other disturbances; Julie thinks he’s completely off his rocker and becomes more testy as time goes by. People who also experience the occurrences, like a babysitter and a friend of Dennis, are stunned to the point of not wishing to discuss the matter further, hurriedly leaving as soon as possible.
Now, I can’t say that everyone, even those who love to be scared, is going to love this as much as I did. For me, since we see almost everything through the lens of a camera, the terror and the anticipation are grossly heightened. When that door is opened, what will we find? It’s not going to be pretty, but unlike a standard horror film where one can simply slough off a shock as being too fantastic, here we’re so easily drawn in by and engaged with our surrogate family that we feel as terrified and mystified as they do.
Paranormal Activity 3 won’t answer everything that the first two may have left unsolved, but it does offer hints as to why, in the present day, these events are still occurring to Katie and her family. We see a part of that genesis, and it’s not really what I expected. I was unsettled and thankful I hadn’t seen the movie at night. Okay, that might be a little hyperbolic, and when some of you actually watch the movie you’ll laugh at me for being skittish. I don’t care. I enjoyed the movie, and that’s all I’m concerned with.