In March 2005, Katie (Katie Featherston) discovers a box of videotapes belonging to her grandmother that she leaves in her sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden) basement. The next year, after a burglary the tapes are stolen. The audience is then transported back to September 1988, when Katie and Kristi are both young girls. Their mother Julie has moved in a live-in boyfriend Dennis, a wedding photographer, who after a series of odd noises decides to film their home and see what they can capture.
Paranormal Activity 3 is a prequel to the two previous films. It takes us back to the beginning with Katie and Kristi as young children and the reasons behind the various spirits that have followed them throughout their lives. The setup is a little contrived, but then you don’t go and see a Paranormal Activity film and not have static cameras in a suburban American home at night. Despite the slightly lazy explanation of the appearance of cameras, the tension is immediately piled on the audience. The action is predictable to begin with as the audience has been so well trained by the last two films that we all know exactly when things are due to happen. Setting it the 1980s is a nice bit of window dressing that helps hide this fact, but it’s exactly as you’d imagine, with little to distinguish it from its predecessors.
The first Paranormal Activity had the originality that helped it to reintroduce ghost stories into Hollywood. Paranormal Activity 2, a parallel prequel failed to do anything new or innovative and so was incredibly disappointing. With the third, there seems to be a move to make it stand out, which does work in some aspects. By the end it feels less like Paranormal Activity and more like The Blair Witch Project, which is not a bad thing. There is a coherent story that the second lacked and the tension levels to scares ratio is better than the first.
That is not to say it’s as scary throughout as the previous films. In fact to begin with the scares are replaced with ‘fake-out’ moments that get the adrenaline pumping a bit, but all the biggest scares (furniture, stairs and hair for those that have seen it) are saved for the last 20 minutes. But this works as a refreshing change of pace for the series and like Blair Witch, will be with you long after the end credits roll. In fact other than the bloated back-story, slow start and contrived elements, Paranormal Activity 3 is almost as good as the original.
Upon opening Paranormal Activity 3 became the highest-grossing opening weekend and midnight start horror film of all time. Building on the now solid franchise name and packed full of scares and shocks, there will likely be further instalments in years to come as the producers milk it for all it’s worth, although from a storyline point of view it’ll be interesting to see whether they will continue to go back in time or venture forward? It’s definitely worth seeing in the cinema so that you can share with your fellow film-goers, the experience of being terrified.