Paranormal Activity 3 is the new Saw. Over the past three Halloweens, we have been given a new entry into the series and like Saw, each new film tries to up the level of terror from the previous installment. However, unlike the Saw series, which got progressively worse each year, the third and newest Paranormal Activity outshines last year’s sequel and rivals the first in the series in terms of sheer suspense and terror, and at times, even out-does it.
The story of Paranormal Activity 3 is set up by the first two films, so those of you wanting to dive right in to this entry, should be advised that watching the first two films will help make sense of the exposition that takes place here. Once the film kicks into the “present”, no previous knowledge is really necessary to enjoy the movie as it all just becomes about things going bump in the night. The filmmakers do an admirable job of making this entry as “stand-alone” as it can be by focusing less on the plot around where the ghost came from and more on the different ways that it haunts the main characters.
In the film, Katie (from PA1) and Kristi (from PA2) are little girls, living with their single mother and her boyfriend, a documentary filmmaker (convenient, I know) named Dennis. When the youngest, Kristi, starts talking to her imaginary friend Toby, her parents brush it off as a normal and innocent childhood experience. Soon however, unexplained things start happening in the night, which leads Dennis to pose questions about “Toby” and whether or not he may be a real spirit. Dennis becomes determined to capture Toby on video and enlists the help of his assistant to make this happen. After this brief and efficient setup, the movie takes off at a frantic pace, with one fright after another.
This time around, Paranormal Activity3 was made by filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel Shhulman, most famous for their low-budget documentary Catfish. These guys understand suspense and horror. They do a wonderful job with very little, capitalizing on new visual devices like a camera on an oscillating fan and subtle use of special effects to maximize suspense. They also eliminate the low humming noise present in the first two films that indicated whenever the spirit was up to no good (but also ruined many surprise moments in the films). This helps create a few well-earned “jump” scenes and heightens the suspense to levels not seen in the first two movies.
The screenplay by Christopher Landon also creates a steady but subtle increase in tension as the story progresses. The characters in Paranormal Activity 3 are smart. They react intelligently when confronted with this problem, (another way that Paranormal Activity3 outshines its predecessors – think of the boyfriend from the first film who just haaad to whip out the Quigi board despite all warnings not to), and take actions that most people would do when confronted by such things. Even the setup for the cameras doesn’t come off feeling forced. The only issue with the story comes in the final act, and by that time, it doesn’t really matter as the energy and mood of the film have been so expertly crafted that plot takes a back seat.
So, if you’re looking for a spooky film for the Halloween season, then look no further than Paranormal Activity 3. In a genre where sequels are synonymous with bad, PA3 breaks this mold and delivers a frightening experience that just might be the best of the series….so far.
Paranormal Activity 3 is Rated “R” and is 85 minutes long.