Moviegoers hit 12 theaters on September 25th, 2009 to see what some would call the scariest movie they have ever seen. Making a mere $77,873 on its opening weekend, Paranormal Activity spearheaded a movement that would become a horror movie lover’s dream. Paranormal Activity 2 opened just a little over a year later on a whopping 3,216 screens and grossed $40,678,424. This is a brilliant feat considering the logistics of these movies. They are low-budget and probably not incredibly difficult to make. They don’t need the Brangelina’s of the world and they are shot nearly all in handheld camera mode. Motion sickness galore, people. To top it all off, the most recent installation in the Paranormal Activity trilogy, Paranormal Activity 3, beat both of the first two combined for opening weekend gross with a staggering $52,568,183. This franchise is on a rocket to the moon it seems. Oh, and let’s not forget that Paranormal Activity 3 broke the record for highest grossing horror movie opening weekend of all time. OF ALL TIME.
It’s not like these movies are super advanced with CGI graphics. They are lacking in the blood and guts and thrive mostly on sudden loud noises and things that go bump in the night. Somehow these filmmakers have perfected a formula that keeps butts in the seats and cowards like me covering their eyes whenever there is a quiet moment or a speed-up in the clock on the camera. Paranormal Activity 3 takes the audience back. We travel back to the salad days of our friends Katie and Kristi. Their mom Julie (Lauren Bittner) is decorating a birthday cake for Katie when we first meet her and step-dad Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) is behind the camera catching all of the magic as it happens. The movie doesn’t waste any time getting to the good stuff. It is just like the other movies in the way that one person senses something in the house and the other person is in total and idiotic disbelief.
There is such a thing as blissful ignorance and I can’t say that I blame Julie for taking that route. Moving is a bitch and if someone were to tell me that there was a violent and evil demon lurking somewhere in the house I moved into recently, I would probably chalk it up to “just the wind” every time too. Much like Daniel – Kristi’s beau in PA2 – did, Julie is an ignorant pest that wants everything to just be okay so she ignores the proof that Dennis catches on video. Meanwhile, Kristi has started to get up in the middle of the night to talk to someone. This carries over to the daytime completely ruining every notion I ever had about bad things not happening in daylight during scary movies. Her friend’s name is Toby and he truly is a shit. Katie tries to tell her sister that she’s just being a baby for having an imaginary friend and Toby gives her what for.
The picture in the attic from the first movie is captured in this one and we are also able to see much of why the ghosts are torturing this family. For the sake of doing something different (NOT), our cameras in this film are carefully placed throughout the house. However, this is before digital video and Dennis is limited to what he can do with a 6-hour time limit on each tape. In his infinite genius, he takes apart a oscilating fan to create a way for a camera to scan a room back and forth excruciatingly slowly. This makes it really easy for the movie to scare the bejesus out of suckers like me who buy into contrived bullshit like this that only happens in horror movies.
The last twenty minutes of the movie deliver an unexpected treat for those who have seen the other two films. It is different in that it is longest sustained sequence in any of the movies, and it gives the viewer a real understanding of why all of this dumb shit is happening. Please keep in mind that this is coming from possibly the only person in the theater who actually screamed during this part.
As far as seeing this one, if you’ve seen the other two, why not, right? If you’re going to get wet, you might as well go swimming. Aside from bitterly wishing that I had come up with the idea for the phenomenon that is Paranormal Activity, I enjoy a good scare. These movies work because they are not only frightening when you are at the theater watching them, but they take on a completely new level of terror when you are laying in bed in the safety of your bedroom and you can’t be sure whether or not your closet door just moved. Oh, did you hear that? I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks…