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The Ending Of Paranormal Activity 3 Explained

There may come a day when we don't have another "Paranormal Activity" movie on the horizon, but that day has not yet arrived. Though 2015's "Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension" was promoted as the franchise's final installment, 2021 saw "Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin" released, soon followed by the announcement of the forthcoming "Paranormal Activity: The Other Side."

In some ways, the appeal of the "Paranormal Activity" series is easy to understand. Found footage horror movies are relatively cheap to produce, and — as we learned from the smashing success of the first film — the format provides a unique way to tell a poltergeist story. Though there's legitimate debate and frustration from fans about how skillfully the events of all the films are woven into each other, one has to admit that piecing them all together can be a lot of fun.

In this regard, the central component is "Paranormal Activity 3." Taking place more than fifteen years before any of the other films, it serves as a kind of prequel origin story, without which none of the subsequent events would be possible. Though by no means the best of the series, it's also far from the worst. Currently it has a 66% on the Tomatometer, well above the dismal 30% currently held by the latest series entry "Next of Kin." And while "Next of Kin" was only tenuously connected to the other films, word is that the "The Other Side" will return to the source material and heavily reference the events of the third film. So, there might never be a better time to look back and see what the third chapter of this ghostly saga was trying to tell us.

Things that go bump on camera

The film starts with a direct reference to the previous two films. Katie (Katie Featherston) –- several months before the events of parts 1 and 2 –- drops off a box full of VHS tapes at the house of her sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and Kristi's husband Daniel (Brian Boland). A quick sequence of shots establish that the video tapes were the only items stolen during the break-in that touches off the events of "Paranormal Activity 2."

We then cut directly to the content of those video tapes, which follow young Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) in 1988, living with their mother Julie (Lauren Bittner) and her wedding videographer boyfriend Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) in Santa Rosa, California.

From here events play out much like the other two films. There are unexplained noises, items moving or breaking without explanation, and an increasing sense that something very unwelcome is watching this otherwise happy family. Dennis sets up cameras around the house and even has his friend and colleague Randy (Dustin Ingram) grab some books on the supernatural to explain the activity. We also begin to see Kristi talking to an unseen presence, who she calls "Tobi." This is the first time in the series that the malevolent entity is given a name. As fans of "Paranormal Activity" have suggested, Tobi is in fact Asmodeus, a powerful demon from the real-life Book of Tobit, and referenced in all three major Abrahamic faiths.

Make room for Tobi

Tobi goes on to wreak havoc, with Kristi more frequently referencing his presence even though Dennis and Julie clearly cannot see him. Tobi also begins escalating, his actions becoming more violent and menacing. He traps Katie in the crawlspace of the girls' room. He spooks an unsuspecting babysitter. And Dennis finds a strange sigil scratched onto the wall of the crawlspace. Late one night, Kristi finally tells Tobi she doesn't want to talk to him anymore.

The next day, when Kristi falls mysteriously sick, Dennis and Julie rush her to the doctor, leaving Katie in the hands of Dennis' friend and colleague Randy (Dustin Ingram). After Katie convinces him to play a very ill-advised game of Bloody Mary in the girls' bathroom, Tobi apparently sees it as an opportunity. He scratches Randy, violently tosses over furniture, and overall terrifies both Randy and a crying Katie. Dennis and Julie return home to find an afraid and irate Randy.

He admonishes Dennis to read the books, pointing out that the entity they're dealing with isn't Casper the friendly ghost. Finally, Dennis reads the books, and discovers that the sigil in the girls' crawlspace is a Thaumaturgic Triangle — a symbol long connected to magic — which continues to appear throughout the film series. It is also, in this case, used by a coven that, decades before, promised first-born sons to a demon. When Dennis tells Julie about this, attempting to show her the tapes of what's happened, she refuses to believe him. Not even Katie crying to her mother that Tobi hurt her is enough to convince Julie.

To grandmother's house we go

What does finally convince Julie is entering the kitchen to see all furniture and utensils gone entirely before they all come crashing back down to the floor. The family escapes to the home of Julie's mother Lois (Hallie Foote) seven hours south in Moorpark, which Kristi had urged them to do earlier in the day. Lois — who we've met before at Katie's birthday party,  briefly discussing with Julie whether she plans to have more kids — takes them in.

At this point in the narrative, it would seem they're all safe. Who could possibly find anything dangerous at grandma's house, after all? Except that later that night, when Julie and Dennis are awoken by the sound of cars pulling up outside. Julie goes to check on the girls, but when she doesn't come back, Dennis grabs the camera to go look for them. Instead of the girls and Julie, he finds the demonic sigil from the crawlspace on the dining room wall, and Lois along with several other women slowly closing in on him. Fleeing from them, he finds Julie's body floating in mid-air before she is flung at him, knocking him down the stairs.

How it ends, and begins

Dennis finds Kristi finally, but when he finds Katie apparently crying over her mother's body, she turns around and attacks Dennis in a manner not unlike how she will later kill her boyfriend Micah at the end of "Paranormal Activity." Injured and crawling across the living room floor, Dennis looks up to see Lois calmly watching, before an unseen force snaps his spine. As Katie and Lois walk upstairs, Kristi simply says "come on, Tobi," then follows them.

This ending establishes and explains many things that come before and after in the "Paranormal Activity" films: It is the lodestone around which the entire timeline revolves. It explains why, at the beginning of the film, the VHS tapes were stolen from Kristi and Brian's basement (most likely by Katie). It also explains that the possession of both Katie and Kristi, in parts one and two respectively, predate the events of the films by a large amount of time. Moreover, their possessions aren't random occurrences.

Rather, they have been specially selected — by their own grandmother, no less — as a conduit for something truly evil to enter the world. If Lois cannot provide Tobi (or Asmodeus, or whatever he may be) with a male to possess through Julie, then she will have to do so through one of the girls. It will be another eighteen years until one of them has a son, but it would appear that Tobi doesn't mind waiting.