Starring Christopher Nicholas Smith, Laura Bittner and Chloe Csengery

Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

Written by Christopher B. Landon


At this point in the life (afterlife?) of the Paranormal Activity franchise, it’s virtually impossible to judge the films based on their artistic merits. Instead one has to go by the visceral reactions of the audience. Did they jump? Did they scream? That is what sells these films, not whether or not they are good or even scary.

Fortunately the third PA film, which explores the origins of the demon haunting sisters Katie and Kristi, is in capable hands with co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the pair responsible for the documentary Catfish which itself caused much discussion as to whether or not it was a documentary. They get the caught-on-video nature of the PA films and find ways to make the concept seem fresh, even if the recorded-on-video nature of the movie does seem strained at times.

Set in the ‘80s and conceived as a prequel to the first two films (“see how the activity began!”), PA3 casts relative unknowns Christopher Nicholas Smith and Laura Bittner as young parents Dennis and Julie. The relationship Julie’s daughters from a previous relationship, Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown), have with an imaginary friend turns disturbing as their parents start noticing unusual noises that escalate into disturbing episodes. The fact that the entity is enlisting Kristy into her plans is particularly creepy.

Meanwhile, Dennis, who makes a living videotaping weddings and so conveniently has an array of state-of-the-art recording equipment, starts documenting the strange goings-on by setting up cameras in he and wife’s bedroom, as well as the girls’ room. In a clever twist, the filmmakers also set up a slowly revolving camera in the living room to give us an intermittent view of what goes on there, and thus leaving us hanging when something weird starts to happen just as the camera’s frame starts to move. And weird stuff does happen.

In terms of the series’ mythology, not all questions are answered but enough information is revealed or implied to warrant much post-screening discussion. The cast is all capable, especially the kids, and Joost and Schulman completely understand the narrative and stylistic tricks of the first two films, creating a film which perfectly fits its predecessors. Will there be a PA 4? The DLB hopes not, as there really does not seem to be anywhere for the series to go, but this weekend’s box office take will likely speak louder than any blog.

Was I scared? Not really, but I chalk that up to audience members behind me who dissipated their own fear and discomfort by talking constantly (something which almost but did not ruin my viewing of the first film) and knowing what to expect stylistically. That said, most of the audience jumped and screamed at all the appropriate moments, making Paranormal Activity 3 a well-oiled thrill ride. That quote’s on me, Paramount.

There’s no way you’ll find an empty screening of PA3 this weekend, but if you’re able to catch a sparsely-attended matinee – or even better, if you can rent out a theatre and watch it by yourself or with a loved one to clutch – all the better.

Rating: 3.5/5


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