2007’s Paranormal Activity remains one of the rare horror gems of the 2000s, alongside Let the Right One In and The Descent. Grasping the idea that “less is more” for supernatural frights and that an audience’s imagination can be scarier than any gore-obsessed monster or murderer, Paranormal Activity provided real scares and is a shining example of how a miniscule budget indie film can go on to be a massive commercial success without sacrificing good storytelling. And then Paranormal Activity 2 was released and much like The Descent: Part 2, that film showed how poorly 99% of horror sequels fare when stacked up against the original. Too this day, I can remember almost nothing about the plot or characters of the movie even though it’s only been a year since I watched it. I didn’t have high hopes for Paranormal Activity 3 after the first sequel, and although it’s not quite the modern classic that the original film was, the series manages to find its voice again.

Paranormal Activity 3 is a the “origin story” of the Paranormal Activity franchise and provides the context for the events that happen later in the series. And for those worried that trying to actually explain the happenings of the first film would ruin the magic, you can rest easy. They handle it well and with the right amount of ambiguity. We find Katie and Kristi, the two sisters from the first two films, back in their childhoods in the late 80s living with their mother and step-dad in a fancy California home. The stepdad, a wedding videographer, begins noticing strange, unexplained noises and movement in the home, and it’s not long before it’s clear that they’re victims of a haunting. When the youngest daughter, Kristi, begins to have an unhealthy relationship with her imaginary friend Toby, the haunting takes a turn from harmless to violent.

I don’t think the series will ever be able to capture an on-screen chemistry as great as the one that Katie and Micah shared in the original film, but I felt more attached to this film’s family than I did in the sequel, and most of it rests on surprisingly endearing performances from child actors. Even from the adults, Christopher Smith does a warm job as the husband who knows something out of the ordinary is going on. Once again, he doesn’t make the same impression as Micah Sloat from the original, but I actually cared about his fate. But the real star is the scene-stealing performance from Jessica Brown as the young and tortured Kristi. She reminded me of the precocious and adorable Heather O’Rourke from Poltergeist, but with a darker more menacing side when she needed it. Chloe Csengery had less screen time as Katie but she brought the heat when needed as well.

Much like the original, Paranormal Activity 3 is a great example of how to build tension, slowly but surely over the course of a 90 minute film. I thought the second movie never really found its pacing and then ended abruptly with a forced twist at the end. That’s not the case for entry number 3. It finds that magic formula which made the original so special while managing to up the ante without seeming like it’s trying too hard. You finally get to see more of this figure that’s haunting this family for twenty years, but much like the shark in Jaws, the film-makers know the right moment when to deploy these blink-and-you-miss-it images and to not show for too long. And by the time the film was drawing to a close, I was in a paranoid, edge-of-my-seat state of mind as I nervously awaited what ever was coming my way next.

Haters of the original film aren’t going to be won over by this entry. It’s ultimately the same “found-footage” and jump scares franchise that it’s always been. Doors open and close. Furniture gets re-arranged and occasionally someone’s going to get grabbed by an unseen entity. But, if you were able to suspend your disbelief for the first entry in the franchise and get lost in its low-budget scares, Paranormal Activity 3 is the exact right steps the franchise needed to take after losing its way for the second film. I probably won’t ever watch the fourth entry in the series which just came out because of its absolutely abysmal reviews, but if I’m allowed to look at the franchise just as the original trilogy, I couldn’t have asked for a more satisfying ending.

Final Score: B+

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