I re-watched the first Paranormal Activity in honor of Halloween. The movie loses a lot of the scares in multiple viewings but it’s still a well-done horror film with a love of the simple scares and things that go bump in the night. PA 2 was okay but nothing spectacular and PA 3 is just plain wretched. While the cast is well done the movie doesn’t hearken back to anything established in the original two, focuses on hyped special effects and a twist ending ripped from 80 other mediocre horror films.
Going back in time to 1988, Paranormal Activity 3 follows young Katie (Chloe Csengery) and her little sister Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) as they’re haunted by a malevolent presence. Their stepfather Dennis (Christopher Nicolas Smith) decides to set up video cameras in order to catch what is happening on tape.
The movie opens with a cameo from original actress Katie Featherston as Katie and Sprague Grayden as her sister Kristie. It’s nice to seem them in the film but it’s only used to set up the plot of this movie and try to say “Hey, this connects to the other films.” Going from there Paranormal Activity 3 diverges from the tone and story of the original, but still has some creepy moments. The scene with the babysitter is probably the stand-out moment of the film.
The young actresses playing Katie and Kristie are adorable with Jessica Tyler Brown being the best as Kristie. She’s not a crier like other child stars. There’s an innocence about her that feels so genuine, yet she’s aware enough to realize her imaginary friend, Toby, isn’t up to any good. Christopher Smith Brown as stepfather Dennis is also great, a far cry from the masculine Micah in the original or the uninvolved Daniel of the second. Dennis is a man who loves his stepdaughters and wants to capture the entity on tape so he can figure out how to protect them. This film is all about Dennis, not his stepdaughters being haunted or his wife Julie (Lauren Bittner). In fact Julie spends the most time in her underwear, never looking at the actual tapes! She comes off as either annoyed or uninvolved which is odd considering how female based these films are.
Sadly, the rest of the movie is just awful and generic. The short runtime only allows for a few scares, and aside from the babysitter scenes I’m having a hard time remembering anything particularly frightening. There’s no sense of a presence permeating the house like in the original. The trailer may not spoil anything, but only because nothing in the trailer is actually in the film. Yes there are two different films, one in the trailer and this version.
The problem lies in what audiences know of the first two movies. You know Katie and Kristi were followed by something that ended up burning their childhood house down. Throughout the film you’re expecting to see a climax involving that fire, but it never comes! It’s in the trailers, but apparently was dropped from the finished film. The reasoning behind the haunting is also never explained. There’s two lines about a coven of…something (I think witches obviously but it’s never explained) who want to impregnate girls. This vaguely connects to two but by the end you’re shocked at how brash the movie gets. Without spoiling things the movie ends with two characters dead and no mention of it in other films.
The climax is laughably bad, being a way to show some special effects we’ve seen in countless bad horror films. Honestly if you’ve seen any found footage film in the last year, or just trailers for them, you’ve seen the films “biggest scares” and will probably figure out the twist.
Paranormal Activity 3 squanders the goodwill of the original. The story is underdeveloped and uneven with a horrible twist that isn’t even hinted at in the original two. While the acting is good the tacky back-story will leave you thoroughly irritated. I’d be interested in seeing another cut of this movie, with all the footage dropped I have to believe something…okay…is out there.
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.