Andy Bockelman: Third ‘Paranormal’ entry keeps scare streak going strong | CraigDailyPress.com

Andy Bockelman: Third ‘Paranormal’ entry keeps scare streak going strong

Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.
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“Paranormal Activity 3”

2.5 out of 4 stars

86 minutes

Starring: Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown, Christopher Nicholas Smith and Lauren Bittner.

“Paranormal Activity 3”

2.5 out of 4 stars

86 minutes

Starring: Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown, Christopher Nicholas Smith and Lauren Bittner.

They say history repeats itself, but just as the exact source of this theory remains uncertain, so does the first occurrence of many phenomena. “Paranormal Activity 3” doesn’t quite give us an answer as to what’s going on in future events, but now we know a little more about just what’s going on in this horror series.

In 1988, sisters Katie and Kristi (Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown) live an idyllic life with their mother Julie (Lauren Bittner) and her devoted live-in boyfriend, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith). The two girls are happy enough, but Dennis can’t help noticing Kristi’s creation of an imaginary friend named Toby who she fixates on intensely.

This, coupled with an odd experience during an earthquake, gives him the idea to see if the family is hosting some kind of apparition by setting up cameras throughout the house. A few weird moments caught on tape the first several nights only get more bizarre as Kristi’s conversations with Toby start to instill fear into her, though she won’t admit it.

The more he views night by night, the more Dennis is convinced that whatever the evil presence is, it isn’t going away.

From the onset, you’d think Smith was the main character of this feature, as he tries to figure out what’s happening with the girls he’s come to think of as his family. Dennis’ career as a wedding videographer allows him access to all the cameras he needs to determine what’s causing things like doors that open and shut by themselves or barely noticeable shadows that can’t be explained.

Bittner’s part as his exasperated girlfriend works well, with Julie trying to put up with his need to figure out what she believes to be mere coincidence, all the while trying to appease a mother (Hallie Foote) who thinks her daughter’s new squeeze isn’t up to snuff and two kids who are really starting to get freaked out.

Speaking of which, the movie really belongs to Csengery and Brown, who each have their own unique reactions to this unseen presence. While Kristi’s unease with Toby manifests itself in little more than a slight hesitance to talk about the situation — even after she starts waking up in the middle of the night just to tell her friend to leave her alone — older sibling Katie is nothing short of terrified once the supposedly imaginary figure turns its full attention to her.

It’s nice to have a name of some sort to put to the spirit that’s been causing trouble for these sisters for years, though it’s never specified if Toby is the same ghoul from the first pair of films in the series. Set before the action of Katie and Kristi’s adulthood in parts one and two, the story elaborates a smidge on why this particular family is being bothered by the other side but still keeps us in the dark as to the entire background.

The reliance on the exact same method that made its predecessors noteworthy is starting to get old by now: going from one camera to another as the night progresses, occasionally shifting to a handheld unit when we need to see parts of the house the roving eye doesn’t catch, this time a creepy crawlspace rather than an attic or basement. The addition of a swiveling camera in the first floor of the house is one alteration, but don’t get too excited — it’s not motion sensitive, just a regular camcorder balanced atop an oscillating fan.

Don’t get me wrong, employing the worn-out bag of tricks isn’t automatically a bad thing as the progression of scare tactics works just as well, such as clattering kitchen items or having someone stand deathly still and stare at a slumbering figure for hours. Where this third movie differs is by starting out with the preconceived expectations early on and then veering in an entirely different direction, leaving us with bated breath as to where they can go from here.

“Paranormal Activity 3” may be the scariest yet of the trilogy, even if its initial formulaic presentation dulls its effectiveness for the people who have already sat through the first two movies. Thankfully, the production team stays true to the low-budget aesthetics of originator Oren Peli and can still figure out ways to add to the sensation of terror with characters who just can’t help tempting fate.

As if the game of chanting “Bloody Mary” weren’t eerie enough, do you really want to screw around with that when you already have another malicious being skulking about in your house?

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