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.