Over at Dennis and Julie's house it's pretty tough to sleep, what with all the creaking doors and flickering lights and girls being thrown against the wall by invisible forces. It's probably nothing. But just to be sure, Dennis sets up some surveillance cameras around their Carlsbad, Calif., McMansion. The resulting videotapes are what we're supposedly watching in "Paranormal Activity 3."
Sound familiar? It should if you've seen "Paranormal Activity," the indie-horror hit of 2009, and last year's nearly identical but passably spooky prequel, "Paranormal Activity 2." With this third installment, however, the formula is wearing dreadfully thin.
A prequel to the prequel, "Paranormal Activity 3" goes back to 1988 -- the VHS era -- to chronicle the childhood of the first film's heroine, Katie (Katie Featherston, seen briefly). For most of the movie she's played by young Chloe Csengery, while Jessica Tyler Brown plays her twinkly-eyed little sister, Kristi. Their adoptive father, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith), is well-meaning if not too bright: Despite logging hours of tape filled with horrifying images, he still leaves the kids with a baby-sitter for a night out with his wife, Julie (Lauren Bittner).
"Paranormal Activity 3," directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman ("Catfish"), apes its predecessors' style and special effects, and sometimes rehashes entire scenes, making it impossible to be surprised by anything on screen. It also stretches the believability of the "found footage" conceit: Dennis seems to be holding the camera to his eye at every moment, even when running for his life.
Though it maintains a sense of humor and delivers a few tingles (the slowly panning camera strapped to an oscillating fan is a nice touch), "Paranormal Activity 3" feels almost completely bereft of new ideas. Then again, when did that ever stop a franchise from becoming successful?
PLOT More surveillance tapes of a haunted suburban house. RATING R (language, gruesome imagery)
CAST Jessica Tyler Brown, Chloe Csengery, Christopher Nicholas Smith.
PLAYING AT Area theaters.
BOTTOM LINE An unimaginative rehash of the last two horror hits, with few genuine jolts or surprises.