An American horror story does what it wants. 

The Paranormal Activity franchise is one of contemporary American cinema's most impressive success stories. Made for $15,000, Oren Peli's 2009 thriller about a guy and a girl tormented by supernatural forces earned $182 million worldwide. Peli hasn't directed the film's two sequels, but his producer credit on Paranormal Activity 2 and Paranormal Activity 3 guarantees that he gets a cut of the box office. And last weekend, Paranormal Activity 3 topped $54 million at the box office.

Like its predecessors, the third Paranormal Activity film looks like a found-footage compilation of a family that is gradually torn apart by something very wicked. Also like its predecessors, Paranormal Activity 3 is admirably lean and shrewdly, self-consciously artless. Because each installment sets up stationary cameras around the house to capture visual proof of whatever it is that is terrorizing these families, the filmmakers get to develop a couple of scary set pieces while eliminating any fussy directorial decisions about camera placement.

In an unusual twist, though, each new film goes backward in time, building from the original by expanding and tweaking its vague mythology. Thus, Paranormal Activity 3 offers a craftily edited account of the 1988 haunting that doomed sisters Katie (Katie Featherston) and Kristi Rey (Sprague Grayden), both mentioned in the two previous films.

By now the series' stylistic and narrative conventions are so ingrained that when they appear, they click into place like satanic little Legos. Once the camcorder's telltale date- and time-stamp appears over a shot of someone's bedroom, the shocks themselves progress geometrically and inevitably from noises that go bump in the night to full-on demonic possession.

One of the most underrated contributions to these films' success is its low-key cast. Playing the blandest types imaginable, mom (Lauren Bittner), her boyfriend (Christopher Nicholas Smith), and the two little girls (Chloe Csengery as young Katie and Jessica Brown as young Kristi Rey) are always un-self-conscious and naturalistic. So when a game of "Bloody Mary" goes horribly wrong, the panic feels far more earned than it is in slicker horror films.

And miraculously, each film has improved upon the previous one in some way. Paranormal Activity 2 filled out its cast by giving its besieged husband and wife a dog, a teenage daughter, and a baby, and its climactic basement sequence was the series' first example of sustained tension. Paranormal Activity 3 is the installment that supplies the most jolts. There are about a dozen leap-out-of-your-seat moments here. But the finished product still feels like a draft of better things to come.

Paranormal Activity 3
Now playing
Multiple locations

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.

Paranormal Activity 3
Rated R · 81 min. · 2011
Official Site:
Director: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Writer: Michael R. Perry and Oren Peli
Cast: Katie Featherston and Zayd Jaber


Now Playing

Paranormal Activity 3 is not showing in any theaters in the area.


Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

    • A Star Is Born

      Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper dazzle in a rare remake that feels necessary.
    • First Man

      Ryan Gosling plays Neil Armstrong in this flawed biopic
    • The Sore Losers

      Mike McCarthy’s dangerous vision of garage rock decadence, returns for a Gonerfest encore


Tiger Blue

Missouri 65, Tigers 33

Beyond the Arc

Grizzlies Maul Hawks 131 - 117

News Blog

City Orders Lime Scooters Off the Streets

We Saw You

Science of Wine and more!

News Blog

Election Administrator Addresses Ballot Issues

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Shocktober V Gets Scary At The Time Warp Drive-In

Fly On The Wall Blog

Great Works of Literature as Written by the Shelby Co. Election Commission

News Blog

'Misleading' Ballot Questions Draw Ire from Voters


More by Addison Engelking

Readers also liked…

  • Death Grip

    Memphis filmmaker Sam Bahre talks about his 11-year struggle to create I Filmed Your Death.
    • Apr 19, 2018
  • Fifty Shades Freed

    Feature length commercial for luxury goods or chilling glimpse into the post-human future?
    • Feb 16, 2018
  • Kong: Skull Island

    Five lessons from the ape-pocalyse
    • Mar 16, 2017
© 1996-2018

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation