Paranormal Activity 3 Directed by: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman Cast: Lauren Bittner, Christopher Nicholas Smith, Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown, Katie Featherston, Sprague Grayden Running Time: 1 hr 15 min Rating: R Release Date: October 21, 2011
PLOT: The prequel to Paranormal Activity 2007, and Paranormal Activity 2 2010, we finally get to see when young Katie (Csengery) and young Kristi (Brown) first meet the demon...sort of.
WHO'S IT FOR? If you like a good ghost story and you were a fan of the first two, you are going to be just as happy with numero tres.
EXPECTATIONS: I loved the first and second of the franchise, but the trend is for successive movies to get worse. I didn't think the filmmakers would be able to keep pace with the first and second Paranormal Activity
ACTORS: Lauren Bittner as Julie: Hey, it's the '80s! And Bittner rocks a feathered 'do and off the shoulder tee-shirts with zero irony. She has an earthy prettiness about her, which she uses to underscore her single-mom-girl-next-door charm, and you root for her. She's a sympathetic character and a good mom. And when she plays the inconvenient, angry denial card, it's believable. It's still frustrating, but it's genuine; not the infuriating plot device it normally would be. Score: 9
Christopher Nicholas Smith as Dennis: Unfortunately, Smith is stuck with the "dumb guy farting around with the supernatural" role--every Paranormal Activity has to have one to document the actual "footage." Smith isn't as perfectly seamless as his costars, but only if you separate him from the movie and dissect his performance. He keeps up with everyone else; and no matter how aggravatingly careless the character is, he learns his lesson in the end...poor bastard. Score: 8
Chloe Csengery as young Katie: How many of us could stare up into empty space with an expression of frozen terror and not come off as campy cheeseballs? Very few. And the fact that a ten-year-old girl is pulling this off is extraordinary. Csengery does a fantastic job as the older, bossier sister and the two girls play off one other as if they've known each other their whole lives. Having the kids act, look, and sound like normal kids, amps up the hyper-realistic feel of the film. Score: 9
Jessica Tyler Brown as young Kristi: Brown takes the cake. It's a close race, because her costars are all very capable, but Brown is the one who has to carry on a relationship with an invisible entity. That means a whole lot of talking to herself. Maybe this would be cutesy in another movie, but Kristi's imaginary friend is exploitative and creepy. Whenever someone asks Kristi about "Tobey," she looks guilty and nervous and alludes to the fact that Tobey is forcing her to keep scary secrets. At one point Dennis asks her what would happen if she told him one of those secrets, and Kristi says, "There would be big trouble." That conversation, by the way, takes place over a tea party for stuffed animals. As Kristi hints at the bad things that would happen if she betrayed Tobey's confidence, she's also pouring invisible tea for a Teddy Ruxpin out of a pink plastic teapot. At that point you won't even remember that this is all just pretend. Score: 10
TALKING: I assume some of the movie is adlibbed, because the dialogue feels like something you'd overhear in a restaurant. Nothing feels scripted. It's almost as if the directors would say to the actors, "In this scene, be a real person. Go." Usually this would lend itself to aimlessness from scene to scene, but it's never forced. It's how intelligent, normal people talk to each other when they're not characters in a movie. Score: 10
SIGHTS: I'm not sure how the filmmakers keep managing to top themselves without going gory or depending on cliches, but man, the third installment ups the surprise factor substantially. Since it's 1988, the quality of the video has decreased, which actually serves to make it even scarier; plus, the technology isn't as good, so the characters have to be inventive if they want to record everything. The oscillating camera that Dennis (Smith) concocts to keep an eye on both the kitchen and the living room, is particularly effective. The filmmakers pay a great deal of attention to uncomfortable angles, lapses of momentary calm, and only letting us see just enough to scare the bejesus out of us. Score: 10
SOUNDS: One of the many reasons I admire the Paranormal Activity franchise, is that the filmmakers understand that hearing something off camera is way worse than seeing it. Other horror movies might give this a go by letting us hear someone being killed, or footsteps getting closer, or any number of other spooky go-tos, but Paranormal Activity 3 goes out of its way to tell a story through the subtlety of noises. The creaks, the bangs, the breathing, the little girl talking to her "imaginary friend," it all serves as the perfect complement to wind the audience up into a state of almost unbearable tension. For my money, the best sound effect is the string of beads hanging from the door to the storage nook. This is supposedly where Tobey lives, but it's off camera, so all you hear is the door creak open and then the beads tap, tap, tapping against the wood. Awesome. Score: 10
BEST SCENE: There were five or six gotcha scenes that would tie for first place. Without giving too much away, I'd have to say that witnessing what happens to Dennis is, by far, one of the spookiest things I've ever seen.
ENDING: Excellent. Personally, I take issue with the newest supernatural explanation offered to us, but it's all about preference, and it doesn't weaken the wollop this movie is packing.
QUESTIONS: Who would actually consent to play Bloody Mary in a house when they knew weird, semi-malevolent things were already starting to happen?
REWATCHABILITY: Absolutely, yes. In fact, it would be all kinds of macabre fun to have a Paranormal Activity marathon. I'll get the popcorn; you can bring the sedatives.
Paranormal Activity 3 blew my mind when I was expecting a semi-decent, albeit forgettable horror experience. The family in peril is just as likable and real as you can possibly imagine ... often to the point where it becomes necessary to remind yourself that this isn't actual footage.
Where the producers find these actors, who are so natural and believable, I can't even hazard a guess. We see big name stars stinking up the screen nearly everyday, but here are a collection of little-knowns who can convince us, effortlessly, that they are a family living with a demon. And you know something else? The kids were fan-freakin'-tastic. A child actor can make or break a movie, because most of them are so rotten. Brown and Csengery are the backbone of the movie, and they carry it along with as much natural ease as the adults.
There is nothing in Paranormal 3 that reminds you it's a movie. It has managed to remove all separation between the audience and the story and give it a profound ring of authenticity missing from actual movies based on true stories. Reality only interjects itself when the people around you are yelling, screaming, or giggling in delighted anticipation. I did my share of exclaiming and covering my eyes, which synthesizes the ideal movie experience. This is why you go to a scary movie. Enjoy yourselves.
FINAL SCORE: 9/10