I’m a bit of a sucker for things that go bump in the night. The “Paranormal Activity” movies have made a series (and a fortune) playing up on the fear of noises in the dark. The sound in the kitchen. The rustle of a curtain when the window is shut. No other movies have made the switching on and off of a light so sinister. Now, even though the series should be a little long in the tooth by now, the inventively named “Paranormal Activity 3,” still made me jump.
As Southside Johnny would say, “Third verse, same as the first.” The new film is a prequel to the first films and follows the template set by the first two movies. Set in the VHS era of 1988, recurring characters Katie and Kristi Rey are little girls, living with their mother (Lauren Bittner) and her boyfriend (Christopher Nicholas Smith), a wedding video editor. When they start hearing strange sounds in their new Carlsbad, California house, he sets up video cameras to find out what’s keeping them up at night. The movie asks the question, Is the boyfriend obsessed or is the house possessed?
“Paranormal Activity 3” is 99 per cent anticipation, 1% payoff, but the 1 per cent is pretty good. I think the low-fi feel of the movies — the picture really does look like home video most of the time — combined with really natural performances from unknown actors make the “Paranormal Activity” movies feel like real “found footage” movies. Most movies of the genre are a little too slick. These aren’t. There’s no music, no stars and it feels like you’re watching something that could be real…. almost.
I say almost because the premise is stretched a little far in number three. Why does the boyfriend videotape things when he should be running for his life? But the underlying idea that these demons (or whatever they are) terrorize the characters at home, usually at night during the sleeping hours when they are most vulnerable, is still effective and giddy ghouly good fun.