Based on the title of this post if you’ve already made the decision to read beyond this first paragraph I can give no other warning in regards to spoilers. Once this initial buffer has ended I am going to get into spoiler discussions over all three PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films- this includes specific scares, plot details and endings for one or even all three films released thus far. If you are still on the fence about reading further, then might I suggest heading over and reading my spoiler free review, then see the movie and then come back for extra discussion or see the film, read the review then come back here- either way spoilers for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 being…NOW!
The tagline for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 reads, “It runs in the family” and once the credits roll on the third entry that idea could not be more evident, but more on that a little later. A quick rundown of the first two films combined is that sisters Katie and Kristi have been having a demon problem throughout their life. The problems seem to stem from events in their childhood and have followed them into adulthood. The demon haunts Kristi first, and has its sights set on her son, Hunter before Kristi’s husband performs a ritual that passes the demon on to Kristi’s sister Katie. Katie becomes fully possessed by the demon and kills her boyfriend before returning to Kristi’s house to kill both Kristi and her husband before taking Hunter to whereabouts unknown. A more detailed breakdown of the first two films can be found HERE.
Moving on to the third film what we get first is leftover footage that could have fit into PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 where Katie is in the process of moving boxes and has no room for a couple boxes of VHS tapes that she dumps into Kristi’s basement. The VHS tapes are labeled with Katie and Kristi’s names and the date. The next scene is from PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 in which Kristi’s house has been torn apart but nothing seems to be missing except, however, Kristi’s husband is apparently very observant and notices that the box of VHS tapes is the ONLY thing missing. The footage then cuts straight into the footage that is presumably on those VHS tapes.
The year is 1988 and we are introduced to Dennis, a wedding videographer and Julie, Kristi and Katie’s mom. Dennis is not the father of the two young girls but is more or less the new father figure in the girl’s lives. It is revealed early on that the youngest daughter, Kristi sees and talks to her “imaginary” friend whose name is Toby. Once Kristi has revealed she has this friend Dennis hears odd noises throughout the house and sees it as an opportunity to investigate. Dennis soon sees that what is happening might be more than what he originally thought and takes initiative to set up three cameras throughout the house- one in his and Julie’s bedroom, one in Katie and Kristi’s bedroom and one placed on a rotating fan that pans back and forth from the entryway to the kitchen. Characters also pick the camera up at times during the film as well.
Like every PARANORMAL ACTIVITY film there are scenes set up at night which give you the time and the date- sometimes there’s a bit of time lapse to detail how much time has passed other times it is in real time and you scan the screen to see if you can see something move or see where something will pop out. Also much like the first two it takes a little while for things to really get out of hand- things start with just a few bumps in the night and with Kristi waking up and talking to herself in the middle of the night. As time passes though the demon starts to get a bit more aggressive and perhaps a bit violent. Dennis and Julie go out for a night on the town and leave the kids with a babysitter. The babysitter plays with the girls for a bit before heading downstairs to study. While studying in the kitchen the rotating fan pans back and forth eventually revealing a figure standing behind her with a white sheet over much as she was just imitating with the girls except just as the camera pans away the sheet drops to the floor as if being held up by nothing but air. The babysitter then goes upstairs to check on the girls and notices that the crawlspace near the camera in the bedroom has a set of beads on it that were moving and she gets close to investigate but get violently pushed away and she retreats downstairs and waits for Dennis and Julie to come home and leaves without mentioning a thing. Dennis reviews the footage everyday however and is fully convinced they have an issue on their hands and continues to film.
Kristi eventually becomes ill and Julie insists that she and Dennis need to take her to the doctor so they call Dennis’ partner Randy to babysit Katie while they are gone. Randy is fully aware of what is happening in the house as he’s seen the footage that Dennis has been recording. Katie being the unassuming kid that she is decides she wants to play a game of Bloody Mary to which Randy both jokingly and hesitantly agrees to. After repeating Bloody Mary three times in the mirror and turning on the light nothing happens but Katie insists they do it again because Randy didn’t do it right the first time. They repeat the words and while the lights are off Randy hears a noise and then is attacked in the darkness. Katie turns on the light and Randy is noticeably shaken by something that has just happened and lifts his shirt to reveal he’s been scratched from the stomach up to his chest. At this time they notice that something outside the door is violently stomping so they shut the door and the entity shakes the door for a few moments before stopping. Randy becomes increasingly alarmed while still trying to pass off to Katie like nothing is wrong as he goes out to investigate something violently throws chairs across the room and Randy retreats back into the bathroom still joking with Katie. Once Dennis and Julie return home Randy proceeds to collect his video equipment from Dennis’ garage informing him that this has become too dangerous and doesn’t want anything to do with it anymore and that he needs to tell Julie about what’s happened.
Dennis does a bit of digging and comes up with some photos from that past that reveal distant relatives that participated in some kind of cult and tries to show the video evidence and the new information to Julie, but she wants nothing to do with it. While Dennis and Julie are arguing Katie is chasing Kristi up to their room until Katie runs into the unseen entity and begins backing away. She stands for a moment until she is violently lifted into the air by her hair and the camera cuts to Dennis and Julie arguing. Katie runs out crying and Julie tells Dennis that he has to stop recording the next day. That night Dennis is in his garage working on videos while Julie sleeps the girls- Katie specifically attacked by Toby as the demon violently pushes and drags her across the room.
Soon Julie is in the kitchen and hears a knock at the door and goes to answer. As she gets to the door we hear a faint rustling and she answers the door but no one is there. She goes back to the kitchen and the rotating fan moves with her to reveal all the kitchen supplies (food and utensils) are no longer on the counter. After a second everything crashes to the floor because the demon was holding them just out of sight on the ceiling. Julie yells that they are leaving so her and Dennis pack up the girls and head for her mother’s house. Once there Kristi is trying on old wedding clothes and when she is asked who the lucky guy is she says Toby, which alerts Dennis but everyone else laughs. Later that night Dennis wakes up when he hears a car outside- Julie wakes up and walks out of the room and Dennis checks outside grabs the camera and walks around to investigate. No one responds when he calls out for someone so he walks outside to the garage and opens the door to a group of old women all dressed in black that look at him and walk towards him so he runs back to the house. Once inside he sees Julie at the top of the stairs but not responding to him. As he walks towards her he sees that her feet are not touching the ground and she has been strangled by Toby and the demon hurls her body at Dennis knocking him down the stairs. Dennis gets up and finds Kristi and goes to hide. When they go to leave they see Katie at the stairs and Dennis goes to get her but she lunges at him and he falls backwards hurting himself badly. Dennis begins to crawl towards the steps but Julie’s mom is standing there and the demon steps on his back holding him in place. After a second the demon pulls his body back basically breaking Dennis in half. The girls then walk up to their grandma and act as if nothing has happened and she walks up the stairs with them before the camera cuts to black.
So with the end of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 here’s a summation of what we know: Julie’s mother (Katie and Kristi’s grandma) is involved or perhaps the leader of some devil worship group or demonic cult. The grandmother has gently pushed for Julie to bring a baby boy into the family which she must have deducted wasn’t going to happen with Julie once they uncover the existence of the cult so the demon kills both Julie and Dennis. The demon talks to Kristi but apparently has a fondness to Katie as the possible mother of the “antichrist” until Kristi agrees to become the demons bride as we see when she’s wearing the wedding gown at her grandma’s. So in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 we see that Kristi got pregnant and the baby, Hunter, may or may not be of cult influence but regardless the demon comes to claim Hunter until the father temporarily passes the demon to a grown Katie who is terrorized by the demon until it possesses her and kills her boyfriend Micah and returning to Kristi’s to kill the husband and Kristi then taking off to whereabouts unknown with Hunter. We do not know of the baby is to be sacrificed to appease devilish needs or will be raised as some sort of living incarnation of the devil.
Leaving the theater I had a lot to say, some complaints and some praises but few people to air them with that had seen what I had just witnessed. My first reactions and negativity were that I wasn’t fully sold on the mythology fit together in a cohesive way. After a lot of soul searching I may still have some issues but we can explore that in the next few paragraphs.
The things I really liked about PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 were the scares. On some level it may be a lot of what we’ve come to expect from the series but in my opinion the third installment brings a much more realized scenario. The characters are better fledged out and all of them likable- Dennis is a nice guy that’s legitimately concerned about what’s happening, Julie is a mother that may be freaked out but tries to stay grounded for her children’s sake and the kids are believable and are very loveable. The restraint Joost and Schulman show to keep the slow burn mentality is commendable because the slow build makes the insanity later much more impactful. The standout sequence is the Bloody Mary game that gets out of control but the mixture of Randy’s terror and trying to keep the young Katie calm is done perfectly. The camera doesn’t seem like a forced gimmick as in the first two as Dennis’ job makes it believable that there’s so many cameras and why he would want to set them up like he does so that he doesn’t have to constantly make an excuse for why he’s documenting.
The camera becomes as much a character as anyone else as it puts you right on ground zero instead of up in a corner viewing action from a distance as in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2. The character’s growing response to the phenomena feels natural and organic as it goes from playful curiosity to genuine terror as well as the nervous laughter somewhere in the middle- the only frustrating aspect being Julie’s absolute refusal to watch the footage towards then end when it could literally spell everything out for her.
Some of my complaints, the majority lie in the finale. However, there were points before that which I found silly or kind of a stretch. One of the silly moments comes when Katie bumps into Toby as she’s chasing Kristi and eventually Toby picks her up by her hair- this visual as brutal and concerning as it is since it’s a child being injured is also somewhat of a silly looking effect which unfortunately made me give a slight chuckle- it could have been a nervous laugh, but the visual itself seemed a little goofy.
As far as the ending goes, the most obvious thing I can say about it is how similar it looks to the set up of the ending to THE LAST EXORCISM. I sort of felt it coming from small clues especially when Dennis gets up to investigate a car that pulls up late at night. There are a lot of effective moments of tension throughout the final sequence and one funny aspect when Dennis opens the garage to a group of women dressed in black and instead of addressing them just turns around quickly and runs for the house. It’s small moments like that which really made this film great for me. Watching Dennis risk his own life trying to protect the girls during the finale is haunting and brilliant right up until his painful death. Had the film ended right then and there I would have felt much more uneasy and satisfied but the frame continues to roll as the grandma takes the girls upstairs and I just feel like it lingers too long. Also the fact that the girls, Kristi especially, are terrified leading up to Dennis being broken in half and then have little to no reaction to his death immediately is a little suspicious. The film tries to push across the idea that this ritual the cult is performing induces amnesia is interesting but the girls were present when the demon kills Dennis and no ritual had taken place and they literally step over the dead body of their mother to go upstairs. The execution of the film was fantastic and only in those final moments do I feel like they may have dropped the ball.
One small complaint I have about Toby himself lies in the motivations and capabilities of the demon in general. Through all three movies the filmmakers indicate that the demon thrives on the fear it generates. There’s a moment Katie questions the existence of Toby and crawls into the crawlspace Toby occupies and the door shuts. Technically the fear from Katie here is not of Toby because she blames Kristi for shutting the door and doesn’t appear to be scared of a ghost until the Bloody Mary scene and when she is hoisted up by her hair. The brutality of Toby also seems to go from slamming doors and dressing in sheets to pushing babysitters and scratching Randy during Bloody Mary pretty quick. Up until the Bloody Mary scene the violence Toby displays is very tame and after Bloody Mary he switches to straight abusive. The odd moment amongst the brutality of him dragging kids around is right before they decide to leave it isn’t Toby hurting someone but the fact that he relocated all their groceries to the ceiling and dropping them on the floor that prompts the rapid move from the house- it’s a cool scene don’t get me wrong, but a little out of place in the progression of Toby’s apparent violent capabilities. Also given the final scenes and how easily Toby kills Julie and Dennis the other scenes in general where the demon is abusing the children maybe seems a little out of place since one or both of them needs to be intact in order to give birth to a baby boy in the future- unless the demon was going to rape one of these children at some point which adds a whole new disturbing dynamic to this twisted family tree.
In the mythology of these films the first film just brings to light a picture that Katie is dumbfounded even exists, the second says that the demon may have come about as a means to gain wealth and will claim the first born son while the third hints at Julie’s choice to be with Dennis since he doesn’t make much money it leans fully on devil cult during the finale. I find that to be a little inconsistent, but only because we supposedly still are not privy to the entire picture to this point not because I find it to be an inexcusable flaw of the film.
Another logic flaw I have is how these tapes we are watching could even exist. As I mentioned before Katie was shocked that a picture survived the mysterious fire that destroyed their house so that begs the question how these big boxes of VHS tapes could have made it through in good condition. Even if they did survive the fire I find it unlikely that the people running this cult would have allowed the tape to see the light of day- it’s not like Dennis was carrying an imaginary camera and the cameras in the 80′s were massive so they’d be hard to miss. So this box of videos remained untouched and burn free for years and years all the way until Katie decided she didn’t have room for them and all those years never bothered to have a look at them. Then supposedly the demon hijacks the tapes somewhere early in the timeline of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 which Kristi’s husband is perceptive enough to check for and the demon stays to torment rather than taking off with Hunter- if the demon has the stealth to pull off the tape heist shouldn’t we believe he can just slip Hunter out the window. Seems to me that if the demon was aware of the tapes years after these events it could have disposed of the evidence long before now, or if a cult member/grandma demon lover disposed of them it could have been done long before they were adults.
I apologize now for the rants and ravings regarding my perceived logic issues and plot holes, but they are simply my internal thoughts on the series as a whole and not judgment on my enjoyment of the series. Truth is that while I ask myself these questions they do not hinder my ability to love the films as I do. The series gets right down to the basics of my own fear of those things that go bump in the night or those odd moments where you swear something supernatural is going down right in front of you. However, make no mistake if anything I experienced was anywhere near what they experienced in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 I may be prompted to abandon ship without a second look. I also would have tossed the camera at one of those old cult ladies as a distraction to save my own life. Hell, after the first PARANORMAL ACTIVITY there are times when I may sleep with one eye open making sure my wife isn’t creepily standing over me for hours on end.
To be perfectly honest, though my review may seem kind of down on PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3, it’s actually the opposite. As a fan of the series I embrace the film with no hesitation- it’s leaps and bounds over the second film and fleshes out much more story and characters than either of the first two films. Since it is a sequel though I didn’t feel the out of nowhere thrill I got from the first and yet I find that the third may actually end up being the one that you can watch over and over without it getting old. The new car scent has faded in other words but we are still tinkering with the knobs that we are not 100% sure what they’ll do.
As it stands we still have loose ends in the series that can be spun off and included in the next inevitable sequel. So here’s my next prediction as to the direction of the sequel. Despite what we saw in the trailer for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 we still do not know what lead to the house burning down which is heavily eluded to in the first two films, we have no idea what the fate of Katie and Kristi’s biological father was, Kristi’s step-daughter was not a victim of Katie’s possessed weather in the second film and the third film ended with no hint of where Katie took off to with Hunter. I think it’s unrealistic to think the next sequel will go even further back it time as technology becomes a crutch as far as found footage goes- but we do not have any insight to the teen years of the two girls. They could also tie Kristi’s stepdaughter back into the fold or even follow some investigation either paranormal or official into the disappearance of Hunter or the obvious murders of Kristi’s husband and Katie’s boyfriend, Micah. I say that because the footage was obviously seen by someone in the loved ones family and would want to see Katie and Hunter found and even if they haven’t seen the footage would find it odd that these people obviously did not die of natural causes and the one link between them all is missing. Only time will tell where we go from here but I’d like to see Joost and Schulman return to direct if we do continue on.
Here’s my comments in regards to anyone furious over the omission of scenes from the trailers- isn’t that the whole point of the series by now? I mean at this point in the franchise the point I have taken is that the film intentionally plays with audience expectations and anyone who saw the trailers beforehand obviously expected to see those scenes and when they weren’t there they played with your expectations….intentionally. Who knows maybe they already had plans for another sequel and some of that footage will be spliced into an epic conclusion or maybe they are just deleted or alternate scenes. Some of the scenes had identical setups but either featured a completely different scare or omitted the scare completely which I find almost ingenious. I did not watch the trailers beforehand and have since seen them- I won’t lie and say those scares and scenes wouldn’t have been awesome, but I didn’t need them to find the film creepy and overall great to watch. In many ways the third film realized the potential of the premise as a big picture and overall as a film much better than either of the first two films and integrated the marketing in such a way that I think they got the maximum reaction they were going for amongst certain audience members. If you think about how scared Kristi is of revealing too much about Toby the water scene in the trailer wouldn’t fit in the context of the film because it negates every motivation Kristi has for not revealing too much. The scene where Julie gets pulled into the bedroom and thrown on the bed seems to have been cut and could clearly have fit in as the deciding factor to leave the house more than the grocery scene. The therapist scene would have spelled out Toby’s existence to Julie as well and for the majority of the film she plays aloof to his existence at all so as a matter of practicality only one scene could really be used to push her over the edge and while I feel the grocery scene was a little tamer than the others I think it fits in better than the others- plus we already dealt with a paranormal expert in the first film.
Three films down and with the third making over $50 million in its opening weekend, breaking records, a fourth is inevitable and who knows how many after that. One thing I love about the success of the series is that since these films are so cheap to produce it proves you don’t need astronomical budgets and huge stars to succeed at the box office. The sad thing is that these numbers are not universal for other original horror movies that struggle to survive at the box office which would be a much needed boost to the genre.
Haters of the series will get little to change their mind here in my opinion except I find this one far more accessible than the previous two. Aside from anyone alienated by the trailers I would find it extremely hard to believe that fans of the first two would have any complaints this time around. So this Halloween if you’re looking for a good scare in-between passing out candy to kids in TOY STORY, CARS or Angry Birds costumes head out to the theater and check out the record breaking R rated sequel/prequel PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3. Also be sure to save yourself some Kit Kats and Resee’s for a mid movie snack.
My PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 Review