Paranormal Activity 4
Directors: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Writers: Chad Feehan and Christopher Landon
Cast: Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Brady Allen, Aiden Lovekamp, Stephen Dunham, Alexondra Lee, and Katie Featherston
Cinematography: Doug Emmett
Producers: Oren Peli, Jason Blum, Akiva Goldsman, James Moran, Gregory Plotkin, and Steven Schneider
I know what you’re thinking and I was thinking the same thing when I saw Paranormal Activity 4 was coming out. Another one? Hasn’t the shaky cam demon possession thing been done to death? Now that the Wayans brothers are going to be making fun of it (in A Haunted House), it all seems a little silly and stale. Considering I’ve already seen an Oren Peli movie this month (Chernobyl Diaries), my tolerance for his home-made documentary style may be a little lower than usual. The original Paranormal Activity was unique and terrifying. Further on down the line you have a franchise that is losing its luster. When you have a horror movie where the scares are predictable down to the minute – it means that you have a film that may as well be a comedy. Because laughter is the only thing that happens when a frightening moment falls flat. So will Paranormal Activity 4 bring back those old feelings terror or will it have me giggling in my seat?
Five years after a possessed Katie disappears with her nephew Hunter in Paranormal Activity 2, we meet a typical suburban family who have just gained some new neighbors – a little boy named Robbie and his mother. When the family takes in Robbie after his mother is mysteriously injured, Alex starts noticing some strange things about him. Her little brother Wyatt is also starting to act a little weird, but he isn’t the only one. After a few night time noises, Alex asks her boyfriend Ben to help her set up computers all around the house to spy on whatever is going on. They prove a little too effective, as strange things start happening all the time – and they all seem to centered on Robbie and Wyatt. While Alex tries to make sense of the unnatural things going on in the house, she may be too late to save her family.
Some Jumps and Bumps
I have to admit it, there were some occasional moments where the tension mounted and I jumped out of my chair a bit. Because no matter what you tell yourself is going to happen there will be some times when you’re caught off guard. That’s when you get that feeling that every horror movie fan searches for -the feeling in your gut that something isn’t right, that hum in every nerve in your body, and that sudden explosion when the knife cuts through the shower curtain and the screaming starts. Or in the case of Paranormal Activity 4, the demonic force grabs somebody and the terrified squealing starts. While these moments are few and far between (especially since at this point most of them can be predicted), some of them are still there.
In the first Paranormal Activity we’re introduced to a couple, Micah and Katie. Throughout the film they are both cute and believable in their relationship – having some sweet moments together and a few understandable fights (if you girlfriend confesses that a demon may be haunting her and she asks you to stop taping said malicious demon’s nightly activities, you should probably stop). In the 4th outing we’re also introduced to a couple – a couple of annoying I-Phone loving teenagers. Sure it’s better than the old camcorders that were stationary and couldn’t skip to the good clips without watching it fast forward. But I also don’t really believe a screaming teenage girl will keep recording video on her phone when she could simply use it to call for some help – hell she could even get Siri to lend a hand. There is a reason that Alex’s own parents don’t even believe her, and it’s because she’s a ridiculous adolescent who whines about everything. But for the record, I don’t think the “I think the little kid from across the street is haunted” stage is in the handbook. The logical thing would have been to either watch the proof on the MacBook clips or to send her to a shrink. But none of the annoying people in this movie act reasonably.
That Same Old Familiar Scare
The reason that horror movie sequels and re-boots suck is that there can’t really be a whole lot of originality when you’re telling the same sort of story again. An element of surprise will help to truly freak your audience out, and that is the reason why the first Paranormal Activity was so scary. It was a low-budget horror film that exploded because it was absolutely terrifying. But there are only so many times you can do the same thing and still get a reaction. And when you have watched all of the other sequels, you get to the point where you kind of know what’s going to happen even before the demon jumps out at you. While there were a few moments that actually did cause me to jump, most of the time I predicted that something scary was going to be popping out. Which means that I ruined the horror part of the movie for myself. Or, actually, the crappy writer who couldn’t come up with something new and different enough to trick me into terror ruined it for me.
Leaving a movie feeling completely satisfied about the hours you spent in a darkened theater is the ideal state of being. When you can have calm discussion about it that includes phrases such as “that was freaking awesome!” or “do you think the top thing stopped spinning?” can also be enjoyable. But when you leave the cinema with a feeling of deep confusion because the plot doesn’t make sense, that’s when we’re going to have a problem. It’s not difficult to understand the general idea of this movie because it’s the same as the rest of them – demon shows up, bad stuff happens, and then the climactic ending where somebody gets thrown across the room. But it’s the little things that don’t really make sense, especially when you put them in the context with the other films. The big issue is Hunter. We can see from the previews that Katie and her nephew Hunter (from Paranormal Activity 2) figure into this story, but by the end of the movie I still have no idea which kid is actually Hunter. I shouldn’t be asking myself who he was, I should be screaming about how scared I was the whole time. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen.
The Comedic Element
If you’re any kind of horror fan you read that subtitle and scratched your head. How could a scary movie have comedy in it? I’ll tell you how – unintentionally. The ending of the film is the perfect example. It’s supposed to be the big terrifying ending, but it ends up falling very flat. One reason for this laughter might be the fact that the symbol for the creepy cult surrounding the demon shares the same symbol with the Deathly Hallows from the Harry Potter books (a triangle with a circle in it). So anyone in that group of supposedly crazed people was someone I couldn’t actually take seriously. I just kept making Harry Potter references and laughing. Some of the creepiest people in the film ended up being a joke. But while I may have had more fun because I’m a Harry Potter fan, the ending still landed flat. Instead of shrieking with terror, I am giggling in my seat – and I wasn’t the only one. It’s not the right way to end a horror movie.
Overall: .5 out of 5
It’s unfortunate that we’re getting this close to Halloween and there doesn’t seem to be very many good scary movies out. And Paranormal Activity 4 is definitely joining the ranks of terrible horror films. The plot falls flat, the characters are annoying, and the whole thing is just confusing. And of course, the most defining characteristic of any movie that claims to be “horror” is missing – it’s not actually scary. I’d call that a complete failure. If you were one of the many who went to see this film at the midnight showing, I am sorry that you wasted your money on complete crap. Just know that you are not alone.