Recently, horror film dross like “The Thing” and “The Human Centipede II” has succeeded in only one thing: scaring audiences away from spending money on a movie ticket ever again. But “Paranormal Activity 3” succeeds as the first true cinematic laxative in months. Simply put, this film will scare the shit out of you.

Paranormal Activity 3

At Quality 16 and Rave

At first, this prequel seems like the same kind of story that its forerunners blazed, but this time around, the bumbling fool with the camera is Dennis (Christopher Smith, “Mayne Street”), a videographer who moves in with his girlfriend Julie (Lauren Bittner, “The Mighty Macs”) and her daughters, Katie (Chloe Csengery, “Point of Death”) and Kristi (Jessica Brown, “Lloyd”). And they would’ve been a happy family, until kitchen appliances start flying around courtesy of the Kristi’s “imaginary friend,” Toby.

It’s a familiar plot, and some elements of the story forgo logic completely. For instance, as mentioned earlier, Dennis cannot seem to keep his hands off his camera. He films everything. There’s spiritual possessions, horrifying death, children screaming for help … and then there’s Dennis, this preoccupied bozo passionately fumbling for his camera so he can get it all on tape. During moments like these, the illusion of film disappears, and Dennis seems more like someone swindling his way into the morning news, rather than a loving family man terrified out of his wits.

So while the storytelling innovations are on short supply — leaving such stock characters as the innocent child and the cynical parent to rule the screen — its ability to electrify audiences is always competent.

The demon, Toby, has never taken on a more sinister presence. When the family dismisses him as nothing more than a figment of Kristi’s imagination, he quickly assures them of his existence. He actually taunts the family, following the babysitter in a white sheet like Casper and playing Bloody Mary with the older daughter, Katie. The story takes Toby out of a realm left to the audience’s imagination, to a much more tangible existence, which may have endangered his dangerous persona, a pitfall that was altogether avoided.

The majority of that credit may be owed to screenwriter Christopher Landon (“Disturbia”). Providing both enough characterization and humor to color its otherwise dull premise, he engages the audience enough for them to at least see the end. But even with these precious few moments, the film would’ve failed miserably had it not been for the dual direction of Henry Joost and Ariel Schuman (both of “Catfish”), and their creative input and subtle camera gimmicks.

One particular device proves most effective: a camera that swings slowly from side to side in the living room. It’s hardly a panoramic view of the home. At the mere patter of footsteps, the audience is left in taut suspense while the camera lazily turns its eye. This limited view capitalizes on the film’s greatest strength: A keen sense of claustrophobia as unstoppable forces prowl the home, leaving the audience to tread within their grasp at the whim of Toby’s mercy.

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