Godfather, Toy Story, Lord of the Rings, Paranormal Activity. Behold the great movie trilogies. In order for a triumvirate to make the list, there has to be enough of a story to tell to span 6-ish hours worth--it can't just be a retread of whatever people liked in the previous film. Although I realize the tenuous grip that Paranormal has on its title based on these rules, I still stand by my choice. Who could have ever guessed that one of the most simple, no-frills "found footage" movies of cinema's history had such a deep reservoir of equally compelling related stories? Well, Paramount and Dreamworks, apparently. Good for them.
The expected progression for these films to take is to continue the first movie's demon possession story in a linear fashion. Luckily, the filmmakers put all of their efforts into subverting our expectations with the script (how revolutionary). So, the second film was a prequel that led to the events of the first, and this film is kind of a double prequel to the second--adult sisters Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and Katie (Katie Featherston) find old VHS tapes of their childhoods, which become the focus of the third film. Strange things were happening in the house, so their mother's boyfriend (Christopher Nicolas Smith) used his wedding video equipment to monitor the goings-on. What he finds will scare the bejeezus out of the millions of people forking over their money to see this movie.
There's no getting around the fact that visually, the movies are repetitive and use the same method of mixing numerous, tedious shots of various household rooms in order to build tension for the abrupt, blindsiding scares. But the thing that makes me love these films is how uncompromising they are in demanding audiences be scared their way. By the third film, we're trained to know that even the shot of a plant on an end table in the second act could lead to something that keeps us awake that night. One shot lingered on a door for just a second longer than expected and the guy behind me exhales, "Oh for crying out LOUD," as though he was undergoing some kind of torture. And really, we are. The tension created in these films is what makes them so effective, and it's an approach that hasn't failed yet.
The scares top the ones in the previous two films, easily. Although I was looking at my watch for the beginning parts of the film, once it takes off, it becomes one of those films that chills you to the bone when you're home alone and have the misfortune of thinking about it. Also, the filmmaker's lack of inhibition portraying terrified children is both refreshing and upsetting at the same time.
My only minor qualm with the film was casting a recognizable actor as the mother's boyfriend. I couldn't help but think of Smith's role as a teenage, irresponsible, soon-to-be-dad on 30 Rock while I was supposed to be believing he was running a wedding photography business and getting more and more freaked out about the devil. I quickly forgot that once the hot ghost action began and I got more and more freaked out about the devil. If you need me, I'll be rocking myself silently in the corner.