Title: Paranormal Activity 3
Directed By: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Starring: Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown, Christopher Nicholas Smith, Lauren Bittner, Dustin Ingram, Katie Featherston, Sprague Grayden
With the Saw franchise over and done with, Paranormal Activity finally has the holiday all to itself. If you’re like me, you were rather used to Saw‘s Halloween splash, spending the holiday watching helpless victims get ripped limb from limb, blood splattering everywhere and a puppet ride around on a tricycle. No, it wasn’t quality filmmaking, but it was tradition and holiday appropriate. Well, no more settling necessary. The Paranormal Activity franchise has not only continued to deliver quality material, but now, with three films under its belt, shows it has the potential at being a viable and worthy long standing tradition.
Round three picks up just before the events of the first two films, in 2005. Sisters Katie and Kristi (Katie Featherston and Sprague Grayden) are in incoming baby Hunter’s freshly painted room. While there, Katie also takes the opportunity to unload some unwanted keepsakes, an old box of VHS tapes. Next year, Kristi’s house is burglarized and the only item missing is that very box of tapes.
Jump back to 1988. Young Katie and Kristi (Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown) are doing the usual for girls their age – having tea parties, celebrating birthdays and getting dressed up for picture day at school. However, little Kristi also has another hobby, talking to her invisible friend Toby. While her mother, Julie (Lauren Bittner) writes the behavior off as mere child’s play, Julie’s live-in boyfriend, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith), becomes obsessed with Toby and the strange and inexplicable bumps in the night. In true Paranormal Activity form, he arms up with video cameras and sets them up around the house, determined to find out what’s going on while they sleep.
From day one, one of this franchise’s prime assets has been compelling characters. We got Katie and Micah (Micah Sloat) the first time around and then, quite beautifully, their story was woven together with the action in Paranormal Activity 2. Regardless, the second film boasts a new crop of main players, Katie’s sister, Kristi, and her family. This time around, both stories collide yet again and we get a look at the girls’ past. Not only does this model offer quite a bit of free character development, but it’s packed with an incredible degree of nostalgia.
However, this doesn’t mean Paranormal newcomers are left in the dark. Per usual, we get a band of new players most of whom feel particularly real courtesy of the shaky cam shooting style, notably natural performances and a wildly engaging situation. Dennis is the lead of this year’s ghost hunt and Smith makes for a fantastic main man. Similar to Micah, he’s fun loving and enjoys his camcorder venture, but knows when to get serious. This time around, our leading man comes with a buddy, Randy (Dustin Ingram). When Julie dismisses Dennis’ findings, Dennis opts to confide in Randy. For most of the film, their interaction is limited to Dennis’ garage video playback station, but during an impromptu babysitting request, Randy finds himself in one of the film’s most terrifying scenes. There’s also another babysitter character that’s quite unforgettable thanks to the in-house demon’s creative tricks.
The film’s streak of good acting continues with Julie, Katie and Kristi’s mother. While not featured in the film as much as the preceding heroines, Julie still makes an impression via a fantastic prank, her deep love for her children and Dennis, and an all around honest performance from Bittner. Speaking of those children – wow. Kudos to the filmmaking team because they snagged two of the most talented and natural young actresses out there. Not only are both girls believable through and through, but they have a noteworthy degree of chemistry with one another, jumping back and forth from typical sibling rivalry to true love and concern seamlessly.
As for the folks behind the lens, you really won’t even know directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman are there. Similar to Paranormal Activity 2 director, Tod Williams, the Catfish duo simply step in and stay true to what we’ve grown to love. Visually, Paranormal Activity 3 is more of the same, but that’s something that’s very appropriate and quite necessary. A few sparks of ingenuity come through the older camera models as well as Dennis’ idea to catch more action by strapping a camera to a rotating fan, but otherwise, Paranormal Activity 3 looks very much like the first and the second and, in turn, all three feel connected.
As for writer Christopher B. Landon, he’s done it again. Many didn’t think the sequel would have much to offer, but not only did Landon deliver a scenario that felt very fresh while still honoring the original in Paranormal Activity 2, but he’s done it yet again with the third. Even though we know what’s coming, every time the lights dim and the night number title card appears, you tense up, anxiously awaiting the demon’s next taunt, a number of which are downright unforgettable.
At this point, you probably get it; Paranormal Activity 3 is just as good as the first two films. But, yet again, that raises the question, should there be a Paranormal Activity 4? After adamantly opposing the second and the third in fear they’d ruin the others, I’ve finally given in. In Jason Blum and Oren Peli I trust; if they think they can pull it off again, I’ll most certainly be along for the ride.