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April 2, 2013


Paranormal Activity 4

by Franz Patrick

Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)
★ / ★★★★

After Katie (Katie Featherston), possessed by an evil spirit, abducted her nephew, Hunter, in 2006, no one came to know of their whereabouts. Five years later, there is a ruckus across the street from where Alex (Kathryn Newton) and her family live. The next day, Holly (Alexondra Lee), Alex’ mother, says that a little boy named Robbie (Brady Allen) will stay with them for a couple of days until his mother recovers in the hospital. Despite Alex feeling uncomfortable that the strange boy who frequents their property in the middle of the night will live with them, it is already decided that Robbie will room with little Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp).

There is a saying that time heals all. I am not sure if I can agree. The pain of enduring Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s “Paranormal Activity 3” remains so vivid to this day that prior to watching the fourth entry, I was convinced that the series had no way to go but up. I was wrong. “Paranormal Activity 4,” also directed by Joost and Schulman, takes somnolence to a whole new level by asking us to sit through scene after scene that lack good jolts as well as inspiration.

At least it begins promisingly. There are some amusing interactions between Alex and Ben (Matt Shively), the sort-of boyfriend who hang around the house and is conveniently knowledgeable when it comes to setting up and hiding cameras. Even though neither proves to be very smart, experiencing the bizarre occurrences mostly through the perspective of young adults is rife with possibilities.

I was optimistic enough that maybe the filmmakers are willing to try something new, maybe even dare to skewer the horror sub-genre that the series has single-handedly revived. I thought that Ben and Alex, probably around sixteen or seventeen years of age, would be self-aware enough to have at least several horror pop culture references especially since they are internet savvy.

The problem is that the screenplay by Christopher Landon insists on limiting what the story can be capable of by forcing the characters to live in a vacuum. It is so self-serious that when no paranormal phenomena is happening, one can get up, get a glass of water, wash the cup, use the restroom, and return to the couch without missing a thing. What the picture sorely lacks is entertainment value. There is probably a total of five creepy moments (I’m being generous) prior to the ending that feels so desultory and forced. Clocking at about an hour and twenty minutes, it has about ten to fifteen minutes of workable material. This is unacceptable. Imagine a comedy that has only five somewhat funny jokes. Who wouldn’t be in a bad mood?

The scares are typical, from a ball bouncing down the stairs to doors opening very slowly while a character sleeps on the bed. But it has bigger problems. Common sense is thrown out the window. If Alex is as scared as she claims she is, how often does she review the recordings? If she is so concerned for her and her family’s safety, she would be obsessed with checking the evidence and determining if she had enough to convince her family that something was very wrong. I know I would. Instead, after major events start to happen in the second half, neither Alex nor Ben bother to check the contents of the cameras. If Alex does not know how to check it by herself, what is stopping her from asking to be taught? The writer. Since Landon fails to create believable people on screen, it is difficult to buy into the reality of their situation.

Just because a movie is made cheaply, does not mean its contents should feel cheap. There is a difference and the sooner the filmmakers learn to discern between the two, the sooner they can save their already decaying reputations.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. GaryLee828
    Apr 2 2013

    I liked PA4 a lot. I thought it was the best part since 1. I actually like all four installments thus far; but if you didn’t like part 3 I can understand why you didn’t like part 4. What baffles me is how some deem part 3 a masterpiece, but loath part 4. lol. They’re basically the same film with different settings. But the main reason I enjoy each part so much is b/c they’re unpredictable. I know that a lot of scenes nothing happens, but that’s what makes the films so unpredictable b/c you never know which scene something actually will happen. Which is why you have to pay close attention. I was pretty rattled by the ending with Katie here; definitely one of the creepiest sequences I’ve ever seen. :)

    • Apr 3 2013

      You really think the series is unpredictable? I think that applies best to the first one mainly because it’s new–or an unexpected revival. (I liked the first.) But the second one really pushes the boundary of boring: the same set-up, the same scares. The third is worse. Bland. The fourth is the worst. It’s just tired.

      Katie and the ending for this movie… made me laugh. My first thought was, “Oh… So they’re doing ’28 Days Later…’ now?” There is barely a dramatic momentum throughout and so the ending feels tacked on.

      Clearly, people have a hunger for these movies. Maybe people need to expect more.

      • GaryLee828
        Apr 3 2013

        I tell you what…if you and I went to Paranormal Activity 5 this October…I can guarantee you that you couldn’t tell me what was going to happen in advance. That’s why it’s unpredictable.

        You’re telling me when the girl went in her treehouse and the camera panned over to Robbie in the corner…that you knew that was coming?

        Or when the mom was cutting vegetables and turned her head to look at the TV and the butcher knife flew into the air that you knew in advance that was coming?

        And then you knew that the knife wasn’t going to come down and was going to remain up?

        And going into the movie you knew Katie was going to charge down the hallway and turn into a demon?

        There’s no way anyone could knew these things in advance; therefore that’s why it’s unpredictable.

        Now if you found it humorous that’s fine and just goes to show this franchise isn’t for you, which is fine b/c everyone is entitled to their opinion – but I found it creepy b/c I always think being trapped in tight areas with an entity trying to attack you is pretty intense. The hallway scene was so effective b/c there was such little room to move.

        Another great thing is that there is no music score to try to dictate when to get scared. Watching these films make the experience feel more authentic.

        You say people should hope for something more, but this franchise is better than most of the crappy horror films to come out as of late; such as The Possession, and Mama. I have had people debate me and tell me those are better than the PA films, but those films are so recycled and cliched it’s laughable. At least the PA films follow their very own formula instead of ripping off the formulas of other franchises. “The Cabin in the Woods” I thought was good – as well as “Sinister” even though I wasn’t crazy about Sinister’s ending, but it was still quite creepy.

        • Apr 4 2013

          I love how you’re so passionate in defending this movie. “Paranormal Activity 4,” of all things! lol

          Well, OF COURSE I was not able to predict the specifics like the knife floating in the air. It is predictable in that just when you sense something is going to happen like something popping out in the corner, it does. There is a lack of teasing, if you will. The treehouse scene is a good example. Going up a treehouse? At night? Uh, yeah, you (or I) get the feeling that something will be up there. And then, whaddaya know, just when the camera reaches the top, something (predictably) appears and the camera (predictably) shakes.

          And OF COURSE there will be no score because they’re going for a “realistic” feel. But how realistic is it that the lead girl (with the help of her funny boyfriend) is not eager enough to check the recordings every single day if she feels that something is really wrong with the boy’s presence in the house? Part of the reason I laughed at some of the would-be scares is because the screenplay fails to create a convincing universe for its characters.

          And, hey, you said it–the PA films follow their own formula. And that’s a big problem. The formula that they have is so tired (and the elements within that formula are nothing new) that it feels like each movie is the same as its predecessor. If you give me a list of events that happen in PA2, PA3, and PA4 in a few months, I probably would not be able to match the events to their respective films. And I think a lot of people will not be able to either.

          • GaryLee828
            Apr 4 2013

            Actually, I totally disagree about the “lack of teasing”. That’s the majority of this franchise is tease scenes; the thing that makes it unpredictable is which scenes are tease scenes and which ones are scare scenes. The reason so many complain that the franchise is boring is b/c there are so many tease scenes. Scenes where some audiences complain “Nothing ever happens”.

            Yes, you expect something to be in the treehouse at night, but if you pay attention to parts 2 & 3 it’s those times when you were expecting something to happen that it doesn’t happen – so naturally I thought nothing was going to happen in the treehouse – and really nothing did happen other than Robbie sitting in the corner like a little creeper. lol.

            That was another thing that was hilarious about part 4 was Robbie’s mannerisms and I was cracking up when they were making fun of his clothes. lol. And when he ran his smart mouth was funny, as well.

            I did get the impression that the main girl was checking the cameras every day. They don’t have time to show you each video she watches, but I thought it was just assumed she was checking on a daily basis.

            I understand that a lot of people don’t like any of these films, and that’s fine – but I think the franchise should get some credit for attempting to do something out of the ordinary. B/c they attempt to do this I am appreciative of their efforts. It may not be perfect, but I’m glad to see something that’s different.


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