"When are you going to stop taping us?" says the female star of 'Paranormal Activity 3.'
"When this thing is over," her obsessed husband replies. This franchise is far from over, even if its best days may be behind it.
The third chapter in the sleeper film series can't measure up to the previous installments. But its signature gimmick - staring at security camera footage until things that shouldn't be moving start moving on their own - remains a nerve-jangling affair.
Horror movies exhaust themselves with digital effects, torrents of blood and other genre flourishes. All 'Paranormal Activity 3' needs is a creaking door or a flapping bed sheet to make us recoil in our seats.
While the first 'Paranormal' film served as both a prequel and sequel, the new installment falls squarely in the former camp. We already know Katie and Kristi (Katie Featherston and Sprague Grayden) will be haunted by evil spirits, but part 3 tells us it's been happening to them all their lives.
The magic of VHS technology takes us back to the year 1988, a time when the girls' step father, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith), captured all of life's quiet moments with his VHS camcorder. One night, Dennis tries to film an intimate moment with his wife (Lauren Bittner), but their passions are interrupted by an earthquake.
When Dennis views the footage of the botched sex tape he sees a strange shape lurking in the bedroom. So he sets his camera up to videotape the room while they sleep to see if he can capture anything else that doesn't belong in the budoir. He hooks up a separate camera in the girls' bedroom.
What follows is but a slight variation on the last two films. Lights go on and off. Doors open and close. One nice new wrinkle involves a camera set on an oscillating fan, a conceit that allows us to slowly pan a room while waiting for the next small-scale scare.
What's stunning about all three 'Activity' features is their sense of economy. The budgets remain microscopic, and the casts are filled with unknowns. But boy, will you get startled by what you see.
The secret ingredient is stillness, both of sight and sound. Audiences wait - and wait - for something to happen. And that often means peering at the screen like a scientist hoping a cell seen under the microscope behaves as promised.
Audiences won't need a special lens to spot the film's glaring defects. We're supposed to buy that Dennis, a wedding photographer by trade, sets up cameras to watch him watching videos. Like every other found footage shocker, the main characters never put down the bulky camera when its time to run for their lives. It's hard not to be ripped right out of the story after one convoluted rationale for recording video replaces another.
And even when Dennis collects indisputable proof that the house is haunted he still sticks around to tape another day.
The new film hints at the context behind the frights, but it's delivered in a slap dash manner meant to fuel future installments.
It's hard not to be cynical regarding the future of this popular franchise. Hollywood churned out seven 'Saw' films long after the franchise had curdled, and no one can say for certain that we'll never see another 'Friday the 13th' or 'Nightmare on Elm Street' features in our lifetime.
But if you go to horror movies simply to jump in your seat, 'Paranormal Activity 3' delivers the goods. And here's betting the fourth, fifth and sixth installments will do the same.