Paranormal Activity 4

I’m a huge fan of 2007′s “Paranormal Activity”. I thought it brilliantly took the haunted house story out of dusty, dilapidated Victorian mansions and brought it to the suburban development. It was ingenious in the way it preyed on our subconscious fears of the dark and of things that go bump in the night.

“Paranormal Activity 2″ served up “More of the same”, but at least it was still served warm. One sequel that plays the same song is completely acceptable by today’s standards.

I thought for certain though that the wheels would come off in the third chapter, but by bringing children into the mix and expanding the mythos, “Paranormal Activity 3″ was surprisingly good. Better than the second chapter, in fact.

Unfortunately, with “Paranormal Activity 4″, the series finally seems out of gas. The “scares” are so tired they fail to even rise to the level of “startles”, and the mythology that served as an asset in the previous chapter now feels like a shackle weighing this film down.

Alex (Kathryn Newton) is a young girl who spends much of her time video conferencing with her boyfriend. One of the things they frequently find themselves discussing is the creepy boy next door, who spends his time quietly staring at her family and occasionally trespassing outright. When the boy’s mother mysteriously takes ill, her family generously agrees to take the boy in for a few days… What they don’t count on is that they’ll be taking a malevolent spirit in as well.

Typically in a “Paranormal Activity” film, a game of “wait for the ghost to appear in the still image” would ensue. There’s some of that, in this movie, of course. But there’s also a great deal of “What’s going on with the creepy kid?”, and unfortunately, that’s not an equal trade. “Oh my God, that kid is weird” just isn’t as scary as “Oh my God, our house is haunted”. There’s still chairs moving by themselves, and swaying light fixtures, and plenty of night vision, but in-between we’re handed liberal doses of watching the diminutive, sullen house guest getting up in the middle of the night or talking to himself. Or just sitting there, frowning. It… just isn’t on par with the slow unfolding of supernatural events of the previous films.

Even when the ghostly activity occurs, however, we really have been there and seen that. There’s practically nothing left for them to suddenly do while a camera records a still room at night. Over the course of three prior films, we’ve seen doors open and close, electronic devices spazz out, sheets fly off, people act strangely, stairs creak, shadowy figures, etc, etc. It’s all literally been done.

Above and beyond the tired “gimmick”, this movie suffers on a narrative basis from several things that previous installments were able to get around. “Why don’t they just leave the house?” haunts this movie more than the ghosts do. With the first few films, there’s a solid rationale as to why going somewhere else won’t help what’s going on. Here, not only do we get no such help getting past that, we’re also burdened with “Why did they take that kid in?” since it’s established that the family doesn’t know the mother, and “Why can’t she get her parents to believe her?” seeing as the young heroine has enough video evidence of the paranormal activity to start her own massive YouTube channel.

Finally, the “Paranormal Activity” mythos is a burden here. In “3″, the prequel back story was entertaining and enlightening. It was an interesting revelation that filled in the hows and whys behind the series. Here, Katie and her clan feel shoehorned in. We’re watching a new family, but the film insists on telling the story in the same fictional universe, and the connect the dots is done in the most hack manner imaginable. They either should have cut the cord completely with the pervious chapters and begun a new possession story with a new family, or found a way to continue Katie’s adventures directly… because the cross-over is clumsy at best.

With scares that you’ve seen before, spaced few and far between, and saddled with a lineage that it bears little relation to in its own right, “Paranormal Activity 4″ at best faintly echoes the things that made the series so popular to begin with.

D

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19 thoughts on “Paranormal Activity 4

  1. I agree about PA3, I thought it really was a breath of fresh air for the franchise and with the same directors back for this part I had high hopes. Your review seems to echo other scores around the web though, shame but if makes money we will see PA5 next year regardless of quality.

    Nice write up as always Fogs :)

    • Thanks Tyson. :D

      I have no doubt that this will be profitable enough to make Paranormal 5 a reality… The last one made a lot of cash and… like you and I, left a lot of favorable impressions. So people will turn out for this one. The question is, will they turn out for the next one?

      Cause this was disappointing. I have to say it. Not that I expected much, but still…

      • Reminds me of Saw franchise, kept making money, but then 5 was terrible, and despite 6 being very good in a lot of fans eyes, it made very little money since people hated 5 so much they didnt go see 6. Maybe that will happen here. I saw PA4′s numbers, and whilst its still profit its down on the previous efforts.

  2. Watched Part 1 in a theater in NYC. The rest have been viewed on video. Think this is how I’ll see Part 4.

    • Then you have no business with this one, indeed.

      That’s too bad. Reputation probably built it up too much.

      I love that one. Watched it in the middle of the night with all the lights off for the first time and got freaked out, man! :D

      • That’s how I watched it too… but then, that’s how I watch almost every movie. :D Like I said in my review, about the only thing hampering it being an ideal scary movie viewing environment was the presence of a snoring puppy. :D

        I don’t think reputation built it up too much for me… I honestly hadn’t really heard anything in particular about it. I just knew it was on its fourth film, so — in theory — it had something going for it. I guess I’m just not wired to be frightened by that kind of stuff, though.

    • Yeah. I love the first one.

      People will fall into two camps, with no in between. It’ll either bore you because “Nothing happens” or it’ll freak you out because you can get into the goings on.

      It’s very much like the Blair Witch project that way. I think thats a very polarizing horror movie, as well.

  3. I didn’t hate Blair Witch, but I didn’t love it either. Mostly I thought it was a very clever gimmick ( the first of the ‘found footage’ films, before it got done to death), but way over-rated. I found it creepy, but not scary. I do know a lot of people who loved it when it came out though.

  4. I haven’t seen a single Paranormal Activity movie, I just don’t have the nerves for it, Fogs. Sounds like this one is a disappointment from the previous films eh, well maybe they’ll stop making it too after the less-than-stellar box office take.

    • Well, the box office didnt blow anyone away, certainly. And compared to its predecessor the results have to be disappointing, of course.

      But it still opened to SIX times its budget. Opening weekend. My money is still on Paranormal Activity 5 happening. Not saying PA5 would be a hit, that one might be the box office bomb that kills the series. But a $30 mil open on a $5mil budget is the kind of thing that keeps series churning into the 6s, 7s, and 8s, you know? :(

  5. Pingback: Everybody’s Talkin’ 10 – 25 (Chatter from Other Bloggers) | The Matinee | Cinematic Passion & Perspective

  6. I never saw another one after the first one. Everyone kept saying how scary it was. It was the scariest thing they ever saw. How freaked out they were after. How every bump in the dark startled them. How they didn’t want to go home alone after seeing it. This was local radio with real people talking about the film.

    So I saw it. It was interesting in that it was different from the normal films. But it was in no way scary. It didn’t startle me at all. I was fine with the dark going home alone. There was no scare factor for me. It was a major let down.

    I had been watching paranormal investigative shows of a variety of types for years before that movie. I had already gotten bored with the sameness of most of them that I had already stopped watching them. Aside from the ending, there was nothing in the show that I hadn’t already seen before. If you only watch Ghost Hunters, most of the movie, until the end, is going to be a bit boring.

    Now, I’ve heard the following movies give more of the back story. Or maybe it’s the third one that does so. Either way, I’ve toyed with the idea of watching the others but just get around to it.

    • The third one is the one with the backstory to it.

      [Shrugs] Horror and comedy are probably the two most difficult genres to “Standardize”. Just like the things that make some people laugh wont make others laugh, the things that scare some people wont scare others. I’m a big fan of the first Paranormal Activity. It was very original – within the context of major theatrical realeases at least, I dont know how or when it compares to “Ghost Hunters”. I was able to immerse myself in that concept of the time lapse night camera and really get spooked by all the activity.

      Subsequent chapters have little to offer above and beyond that though, so if you’re not a fan of the first, I certainly dont recommend any of the sequels for you, and DEFINITELY not this one. LOL

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