A lot or a little?
Parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie is -- a prequel to both Paranormal Activity and Paranormal Activity 2 -- attempts to explain the events that led up to the terrors in those two movies. Like the others, it's told in fake documentary style, mostly via surveillance camera footage. The scary stuff is left largely to the imagination (and there's a near-constant sense of dread as a result), though this movie has a little more on-screen violence than the previous films did: An invisible force terrorizes two young girls, lifting one up by the hair and dragging her across the floor. Language is strong but not frequent and includes many uses of "f--k" and "s--t." A loving couple attempts to tape themselves having sex, though they only get as far as some foreplay, with clothes on. They also smoke pot.
What's the story?
In a quick prologue, set in 2005, Katie (Katie Featherston) drops off a box of old videotapes to be stored in her sister Kristi's basement. The content on these tapes consists of 1988 footage of young Katie (the main character of Paranormal Activity) and Kristi (the main character of Paranormal Activity 2). As kids, the girls live with their mother Julie (Lauren Bittner) and Julie's loving boyfriend, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith). Kristi starts spending time with a sinister-sounding "imaginary friend," Toby, and strange, terrifying things start happening in the house. Dennis videotapes everything, but is anyone really prepared for the true horror behind it all?
Is it any good?
It continues the broken/mixed family dynamic of the previous two films, but the characters here are more sharply drawn and more sympathetic; this family has a more loving feel. The main drawback is the plot. Still somewhat ambiguous, it tries to explain everything and conclude the series. But that conclusion is a bit unsatisfying, more like a whimper than a bang. Overall, though, the movie definitely provides strong chills.
Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the minds behind the quasi-documentary Catfish, take over as directors on this third entry in the Paranormal Activity series, staying true to the earlier films' style. Wide, unmoving images from surveillance cameras provide endless dread and suspense, never indicating just where the next shock is going to come from. The movie's most ingenious invention is a moving camera, mounted on an electric fan base; as it moves mechanically back and forth, important information moves helplessly, automatically out of frame, and viewers must wait anxiously to see more.
Talk to your kids about ...
- In theaters: October 21, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: January 23, 2012
- Cast: Christopher Nicholas Smith, Katie Featherston, Lauren Bittner
- Directors: Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Horror
- Run time: 85 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: some violence, language, brief sexuality and drug use
For kids who love scares
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.