I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed the original Paranormal Activity, and surprised even MORE when I also enjoyed Paranormal Activity 2. But though I knew I’d have to see PA3 (compulsive completer, just ask ER), I’ve been putting it off for so long because I knew there was just nooooo way it could possibly not suck.
And, of course, I was right. Well, I was wrong and I was right. Lemmie ‘splain. (“No, there is no time. Lemmie sum up.”)
This installment focuses on Katie and Kristi when they were little girls and first encountered the entity that haunted them in PA and PA2. While not being nearly as clever as the first two films, there are still some fairly successful “BOO!” moments in this one, and I confess when it was over I was a little sorry I’d chosen to see it on a dark and stormy night all by myself. That little frisson of “eep!” is something I’m always seeking from horror movies and rarely finding, so this outcome is not worth nothing. Then again, I’m kind of a sucker for ghost stories, and they’re generally a good choice when I’m feeling the urge for a spookin’ out. Your mileage on the eep-factor, therefore, may vary.
Paranormal Activity 3 is set in 1988, when Katie and Kristi are about 8 and 6 years old, respectively, and have just moved into a new house with their mom, Julie, and their mom’s boyfriend, Dennis. Dennis is a videographer, mostly making things like wedding videos. He works with his buddy out of the garage, and though Julie’s mom doesn’t like him much, he clearly adores both Julie and her two girls, making it hard for us, the audience, not to take a shine to him pretty quickly (even though we know not to get too attached because he’ll surely be dead soon).
A few weeks after getting settled into their new house, Dennis and Julie begin hearing strange noises at night they can’t explain. The house seems too new to be so creaky, and so, more for kicks than because he truly believes they’re haunted, Dennis decides to set some video cameras up around the house and see what he can capture on tape (including a camera he rigs up on an old fan so that it will oscillate from the living room to the kitchen — plus ten points for the MacGyver reference, by the way).
Meanwhile, Kristi has started talking to and about an imaginary friend she calls Toby. At first, this seems completely harmless. But when Dennis asks her a few questions about Toby, he’s surprised and somewhat unsettled when Kristi informs him that she’s not supposed to talk about him and that if she does, she’ll get in big, BIG trouble.
From there, things go from mere threats to actual harm, escalating more and more with each passing night. All of this is just fine and dandy and handled satisfyingly enough, but there were a few major problems I just can’t let go of.
First is that there’s a scene that features Kristi standing in her parents’ doorway for hours in the middle of the night, which is a spooky gimmick stolen right out of the original film. Hey, you’re only at 4 hours and 30 minutes total for the entire series, and you’re already having to recycle? Not a good sign, kids. (Also, if you find yourself needing to resort to a “Bloody Mary” scene in order to conjure up some shivers, you ought to throw in the towel instead. I mean honestly.)
The second problem, and the one that really ruined this film for me, is the ending. This installment was the logical finale to the series (we had Katie as an adult, Kristi as an adult, and now we have the origin story, so we’re done, right? RIGHT?!), yet we don’t really end up with any new information on who or what is behind the entire haunting (which, incidentally, was a demon thing in PA2, not a ghost thing as it seems to be here). There’s some kind of rigmarole about a witches’ coven that used to brainwash girls of child-bearing age into having children and then wipe their memories, and so, the suggestion, backed up by the final few minutes of the film, is that these witches are responsible for all the nefarious goings-on. But then, why is the spirit interacting with Kristi an older man (she says) named Toby? And why would these women be haunting this family? The events don’t even all take place in the same house, so it’s not that someone just moved the headstones and not the bodies (so to speak). And there’s no suggestion that any of the witches were related to the family either.
I think the filmmakers either wanted to leave it mysterious, thinking that was a clever way to end things (The Sopranos), OR they wanted to leave room for yet another sequel. But this movie is markedly lower in quality than the previous two and a fourth is likely to be virtually unwatchable, judging from the way these things usually go. So, ugh. If that’s really the plan, then the plan is just plain stupid.
I was surprised to find out today that PA3 was directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, who made the documentary (or mockumentory, depending on who you ask) Catfish last year, a fascinating story about a guy who befriends and falls for a woman online who turns out to have totally duped him. Catfish is a heartbreaking, fascinating film, and if it’s fiction, then it’s all the more amazing for having been so realistic and relatable. This movie? About as far from all those adjectives you could get.
Worth a rental if you’ve seen the other two, but I’m pretty sure that, despite the fact I did enjoy portions of this flick, this is where I get out. Maybe we’ll get lucky and they won’t make a fourth? Thus sparing me the temptation to go see it too just because I have such an impossible time letting loose ends lie? Oh please, please help me, filmmakers. Save me! Stop now! While you’re still (mostly) ahead!
Oh, who are we kidding. Watch this space for the inevitable review of Paranormal Activity 4 some time next year.
[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]
Cast: Katie Featherston, Christopher Nicholas Smith, Sprague Grayden, Lauren Bittner, Mark Fredrichs, Brian Boland