At movie's start we once again see a segment or two of "found footage." They're little videotaped snippets from somewhere around 2005 or 2006 when twentysomething sisters Katie and Kristi are still alive and not demon-possessed.
Look how good they look.
We see the smiling siblings at that age for only a bit, however, just long enough to watch Katie lug a box or two of Grandma's stuff into Kristi's basement. One cardboard container is stuffed full of old VHS tapes from their childhood back in 1988. Now, why didn't we ever notice these curious artifacts down here before? Oh, who cares, let's just take a look …
A little grainy snap-crackle-pop later and it's the '80s. Wedding filmographer and video camera devotee Dennis is just moving in with his girlfriend, Julie, and her two girls, Katie, about 9, and Kristi, about 6. They get along. The girls are cute. And all together they look like the beginnings of a happy newfound family.
One night, when the girls are both tucked away, Dennis suggests to Julie that they set up his beloved camera and record a little of their, um, private time. Julie's gung ho on the smoochy idea until an earthquake rattles the room, launching pictures off the wall and sending the couple grabbing for clothes and scurrying out to reach the kids.
As the tripod-bound camera topples to the floor, still cranking away and recording its sideways point of view, it catches sight of a fine silt that falls from the cracked plaster ceilings. A spill of dust and grit that sprinkles down and adheres to the human-like form of … something. An invisible scary something.
"Did you see that?" Dennis exclaims.
"What?" Julie asks.
"Right there. A shape."
"Is it a ghost?"
"This is so cool."
Time to set up some more cameras.
Even though it's not clear that Dennis is anything more than a live-in boyfriend, it is very apparent that he loves Julie and her girls. He voices his affection for them repeatedly. He tells Julie, "I love you with all my heart and soul." And ultimately the guy puts his life on the line to try to protect her and her daughters. They all return his affection (at least while they're in their right minds).
Dennis sets up three video cameras—including an improvised panning camera in the living room/kitchen area—and captures spooky movements all over the house. The exact reason for those happenings is fuzzy at first. Julie even compares Dennis' obsession with "people who think they see the Virgin Mary in their toast." But later it becomes clear that everything's connected to young Kristi's not-so-imaginary friend Toby—a spiritual entity.
Slammed doors, blown-out lights and all manner of invisibly triggered activities ensue.
Dennis' friend Randy tells the girls about an old game where you turn off the lights and repeat the name "Bloody Mary" three times for spooky results. When Katie convinces him to play the game with her … paranormal chaos is the result. Dennis researches witch covens and reads that young children are particularly susceptible to dark spiritual influences. He also finds a coven symbol in the book that he saw drawn on the wall of a secreted away spot in the girls' room. Later he sees the same symbol, along with a pentagram, at the girls' grandmother's house.
While at Grandma's, the kids play dress up. Kristi is gussied up as a miniature bride. "Who's the lucky guy?" Julie cheerfully asks. And Kristi matter-of-factly replies, "Toby."
[Spoiler Warning] By movie's end, it proves out that Toby is a summoned demon that's both evil and very deadly. And Dennis comes face to face with Grandma's coven of witches. It's subtly hinted that Kristi's pretend wedding may be followed through on.
Before the earthquake interrupts them, Dennis and Julie's taped lovemaking session involves him cupping her clothed breast, them stripping down to skimpy bra and panties/boxers and T-shirt, and beginning to passionately kiss and caress. She sits on top of him on their bed, straddling his waist. And it's apparent at one point that he's aroused by her.
Julie wears a formfitting dress. A babysitter wears a tight curve-hugging tank top.
There's nothing playful about any of the frame-rattling scares here. From early on, tiny Kristi makes it known that Dennis shouldn't ask her many questions about her invisible pal. If she tells "secrets" she "won't be safe." And from that point on, there's an ominous danger and fear for the children's safety that hang in the air.
During Randy and Katie's Bloody Mary game, chairs, tables and other items are slammed around in the girls' room, and Randy ends up with a painful scratch down the length of his torso. Not long after, Katie runs full tilt into an invisible but solid entity that stops her in her tracks. She backs away in fear and is then hoisted into the air by her ponytail. In another intense moment, her bed and belongings are thrown around the room as Katie herself is dragged to-and-fro and then out of view of the camera. Listening to her older sister's off-camera screams, Kristi pleads for Toby to let her go and promises to do whatever the invisible creature wants.
Dennis and Julie and the girls' babysitter are all demon-handled to differing degrees as well. And in addition to these examples there are scores of times when various objects are smashed, dropped or slammed by an invisible hand. The more visceral moments feature a woman who is floating above a staircase with a broken neck and then thrown down at the camera, and a crawling man who is lifted and has his backbone visibly snapped in half as he's folded backward.
Crude or Profane Language
About 15 f-words and half that many s-words. God's and Jesus' names are misused a handful of times; Jesus' is once linked to the f-word.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Dennis films Julie smoking a joint. She protests, worrying that her girls will see the tape. It doesn't stop her, though. Later in the recording we see that she's quite stoned.
Other Negative Elements
Randy reports stealing books on witchcraft from the library.
The first Paranormal Activity was a $15,000 independent film experiment that grabbed studio attention and eventually drew in nearly 200 million worldwide box office dollars. Which, of course, meant a sequel needed to be quickly cranked out a year later. And a year after that we're looking through frightened fingers at PA No. 3.
Compared to the original single-camera found-footage novelty, this newest scare flick is a much more Hollywood affair. It does still have lots of long intercut wee-hours shots of sleeping figures and moving-door/flickering-light creepiness. And it similarly features a dupe of a guy who carries a video camera with him wherever he goes—even, inexplicably, when looking at previously filmed tapes and while scrambling for dear life.
But it could be argued that PA3 goes further than its predecessors by merely starting with that simmering creepiness—that edge of your seat anxiety that comes from searching a darkened room for any slight shadow or shift—and from there notching up the wickedly twisted heat degree by degree. Demons screech. Little girls scream. Victims young and old are yanked, pummeled and hurled. Foul-mouthed exclamations explode. The dead mount. And formerly guessed-at demonic spirituality is given a coven's flesh.
When it all comes to an eerie boil, guess who's the frog left in the scalding pot?