I don’t know about you but when I think of movies that deserve trilogies, I tend to think of epic heroes that inspire Halloween costumes. I think of awesome license plates, like LOTRFAN and STRWARS and GBUSTER1. I usually don’t think of “Paranormal Activity.” But that might be because I never saw the first one and wasn’t aware that the second one happened. Nonetheless, I found myself settling into a nice matinee of the third in the series at the Criterion, ready to delve into the Halloween spirit with a movie that would surely scare the costume ideas right out of my brain.
For those of you who aren’t aware (I wasn’t), the premise of the “Paranormal Activity” films is to show a bunch of scary things happening to normal people. It’s done in a style that Wikipedia calls “found footage” — meaning it evokes the style of a real home video. “Like Christmas ’93? That was the best!” you ask.
No, not really. For “Paranormal Activity 3,” this means that one of the main characters, Dennis, is conveniently a wedding videographer who films every waking and sleeping moment of his life. This may seem like quite a feat, going over 12 hours of sleeping video during each day. Well, don’t you worry, because they expose that plot hole and then do nothing to reasonably excuse it in the film! Anyway, Dennis lives with his girlfriend, Julie, and her two daughters, Katie and Kristi, who are totally cute and innocent and stuff, ya know? Dennis quickly notices that there’s something weird about Kristi and her imaginary friend, Toby. Concerned, he does some research on spirits in library books (the story takes place in 1988) and videotapes every single thing that happens. This means that at least 75 percent of the film is footage of empty rooms where nothing is happening. Presumably, this was done to build suspense but since I’m no Henry Joost (the famous director of “Paranormal Activity 3,” duh!), I’ll tell you what the movie would be like if they had cut to the chase and condensed it to the 20-minute YouTube thriller it was destined to be: little girl Kristi is caught on tape talking to imaginary friend Toby in the middle of the night and this Toby fellow causes small disturbances like thumping noises and falling teddy bears.
“Stepdad” Dennis thinks this is pretty weird and tries to talk to Kristi about it, who is intimidated by Toby and tells Dennis that what she talks to Toby about is a secret. Logical mom Julie writes it off as a phase but things get weirder as lamps fall down and the babysitter freaks out. After a lot of those scenes where you are pretty sure something scary is going to happen but not certain and then a terrifying ghost does something like pull little Katie across a freaking room, the family finally decides to get out of that weird house. They go to the home of Lois, Julie’s mother, who, although she is one of only five characters in the movie, is noticeably out of the picture for most of the film. After all that, (oh, sorry, is it too late for a spoiler alert?) it turns out Lois is part of a creepy witch covenant and horrible things happen according to the ghost’s plan!
Overall, my biggest regret about the movie is that they didn’t play it up as the historical fiction it was. Apart from the girls’ bedroom mildly resembling the one on Full House and the babysitter rocking a side ponytail, there was nothing that screamed ‘80s. Would I recommend it to be a part of your family Halloweekend activities? Not unless you are concerned about your grandma being a creepy witch and want to know exactly what NOT to do.