I feel like this is going to be an uphill struggle… Hey gang, listen, Paranormal Activity 3 is great. Seriously. I think it’s my favourite sequel of the bunch.
And you know what else? I actually love them all. Even the fourth one. And that Latin American spin-off. AND the unofficial sequel set in Tokyo.
The Paranormal Activity films fuck my shit up in ways that other modern horror films just don’t manage. On paper they are nothing more than standard haunted house movies, filled with easy jump-scares and increasingly implausible excuses why all the action is being filmed in the first place. But still, they work. I have rarely felt the same grip of tension and fear outside of the original Japanese version of Ring, even when I’ve seen the same sequel multiple times.
For me, what separates the Paranormal Activity films from other long-running franchise horrors are its casting choices and character development. These are unknown performers, all with a fittingly naturalistic style of acting, all able to illicit great sympathy from an audience even when they’re so obviously making the wrong choices. You want them to figure out what’s going on. You want them to be okay. It’s the same with The Blair Witch Project, you give a shit. You certainly don’t give a shit about anyone in the Saw movies.
But of course, the characters would be nothing if there wasn’t something very real for them to fear, and the Paranormal Activity movies do a masterful job in utilising innovative techniques to make you shit your pants. Paranormal Activity 4 may be the weakest of the series, but its use of an Xbox Kinect to map out the unholy terrors in the dark is ingenious. It’s this playful nature inherent to the series that harkens back to the same sense of macabre fun that William Castle had when he was inventing new techniques to scare the pants off his audience in the 50s. Of the series, Paranormal Activity 3 best exemplifies this sense of playfulness and imagination when focusing on scaring its audience in the most surprising way possible.
Setting this instalment in the 80s and tying it to VHS technology brings a freshness to the series. Dennis (the typically stubborn boyfriend who just won’t stop taping everything!) has to figure out how to use simple household tools to help him capture the activity. One of these tricks, the camera mounted on an oscillating fan, leads to the most terrifying encounters, trapping the audience’s gaze as it moves to and fro in a steady, mechanical manner. You’re trapped in its rhythm whether you like it or not.
There’s so much to enjoy in Paranormal Activity 3: the earthquake fake-out, the scary mask in the wardrobe fake-out, the sense of humour in both the character’s dialogue and the playful editing, the way the mythology of the series begins to open up… Yeah, I know the complicated mythology of Paranormal Activity is perhaps where people begin to lose interest, but it’s at this point that I genuinely became invested in what the hell was going on. Paranormal Activity 3 gives you just enough clues to help you figure out a backstory. The subtle ones are the best: the way the grandmother (who you can reasonably assume now is the head of a coven) says to her daughter “but you always wanted a son” and the creepy bridal dress-up game she plays with her granddaughter.
If you watch the films back-to-back you also notice other subtle touches. Much of the artwork in the grandmother’s house at the end of Paranormal Activity 3 can be seen in the family home of the 2007 set Paranormal Activity 2. There’s also a quick moment where you see Dennis take the very childhood photo of Katie that is featured in the first film. This is all terribly nerdy stuff, but I like the way it ties everything together.
Ultimately though, Paranormal Activity 3 is absolutely terrifying and buckets of fun, in a much similar way to all the immersive Halloween experiences that have begun springing up all over the UK countryside. I keep going back to them just as I’ll be there front-row centre when the crappily titled Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is released in a couple of weeks.
For more spine-chilling thrills to watch over Halloween, check out our complete 31 days of horror movies list.