Paranormal Activity 4 – 1 out of 5
Somehow the franchise built on static shots of bedrooms, no scares and a demon with an unhealthy obsession with opening and closing doors made it to number 4.
After the events of the 2nd film (remember, three was a prequel), several years have passed and Katie (possessed by the demon who, aside from the doors, has a thing for making chandeliers slightly swing) and her nephew; Hunter, have been missing—probably off listening to death metal or whatever demons do during their off-time. Now Katie has reappeared in a very ritzy neighborhood with another small child—assumed to be Hunter. Pretty soon, her neighbor’s daughter starts to experience disturbing behavior that includes small noises that in real life would be ignored if even noticed, doors slowly closing while sleeping, some shadows going across her webcam lens and a whole lot of nothing.
|Unless you count putting practice and a man tying his shoes in the background nothing.|
Like all previous installments, this film was more boring to me than scary. Also, unlike the other installments, this one decided to downplay all the “scary” elements of the previous films and any real scare sequences were few and far between. However, there was a scene that I actually was quite impressed with and was genuinely creepy—something the combined other 3 movies weren’t capable of doing. But I’ll get to that in a minute…
|And the movie offers up this so you feel like a creep watching the film.|
As for the story, it’s not more complicated than the other films. Basically, the demon torments one of the only few people in all of existence who is compelled to record every facet of their daily lives. In most “found footage” horror films the filmmakers have to come up with a reason for filming 24/7 because, even in this day an age of smart phones with high definition cameras on them, filming all the time just doesn’t make any goddamn sense. Granted the excuses in the Paranormal Activity franchise are flimsy at best and “Really?” at worse but at least there’s a reason. This one involves a backhanded reason that the daughter of the tormented family has a friend who likes to make movies and records all his webcam conversations...for blackmail purposes I assume.
Other than being the latest money maker for this unimagined franchise, this movie is also the mother of all product placements for the Xbox Kinect. While it’s cool to see a gaming device that I own used for a horror film (and actually used creatively, I might add), the gimmick quickly wears its welcome out as they become depended on it and further push the realm of believability (remember, this is a horror genre that is sold on the idea that it’s meant to look more realistic than other traditional horror films) due to the fact that, apparently, the family leaves their Kinect on at all times. Yes, this is a nitpicky complaint and one could argue I’m looking too deep into the film but, I don’t know about you, when I was growing up if I left an electronic device on I got yelled at for wasting electricity—but if you see the house in Paranormal Activity 4 it’s clear they don’t ever have to worry about wasting money because they have cash to burn. Which seems to be a reoccurring theme for the series as each film involved a family that was more than well off (Upper-Middle Class, I would surmise) and with no sign of responsibility anywhere.
|"My parents are rich...that's why I film everything...in case of a lawsuit."|
Look at the first film, Katie and her douche bag boyfriend; Micah (who I have a theory that he is actually her half-brother due to the fact when you meet Katie’s stepfather in part 3 he looks suspiciously like Micah—I think he had a son that, in some twist of fate conjured up by the demon, would later go on to meet and date his half-sister) back on track—Katie is a student and Micah is a day trader who you never see trade any days despite the fact he’s filming literally every single second of his life and the filmmakers deemed it necessary for us, the viewers, to see three scenes of him begging to make a sex tape with Katie but only one scene of her looking like she’s kinda/sort of studying and not a single scene that would indicate Micah has done any work since the haunting started to the point the demon murdered him. Despite this, they live in a house that no one their age and with their work ethic could afford. So, not only does the demon love to haunt the specific person who has an affinity for filming themselves but it gets even more insanely specific as it seems it likes to slam the doors, pull the covers and fill the walls of lavish homes that belong to people who, apparently, don’t work but somehow can afford the home—or maybe they can’t and were on the verge of foreclosure and the demon haunting and ultimately killing them was his way of letting them not dealing with losing their home.
At this point, I want to remind you that despite my heavy criticism of the film (and the series in general) I did find one scene creepy in this one and it involved the Kinect (which every time I saw it on I found my environmentalist side and “I have to pay the bills” side wanting to cry out for them to shut the system off when not in use). Paranormal Activity has never been about subtly. There’s never a sequence where you think you see something in the background but rather it’s always about making sure you see what's in front of you (and this movie has sequences that are painfully obvious as they are adjusting the camera to make sure the jump sequence—I hate calling them scares because they’re all just shocks—is easily seen…or maybe it was incredibly imperative that the little girl moved the laptop an inch to the right so the doorway couldn’t be seen so you wouldn’t notice her friend enter the room and surprise her). However, this film saw an opportunity where the franchise almost went the subtle route to scare you. While it wasn’t exactly a situation where your imagination scares you but allowing you to question if you saw something or not, it was pretty damn close and actually made me say, “Wow, that was actually pretty creepy.” The sequence in question was a scene that involved the young boy of the family coming downstairs in the middle of the night and being followed by a ghostly apparition that could only be made out due to the infrared tracking lights of the Kinect. It was actually really creepy and a surprising move from the series that was built upon always alerting the audience when a scare was coming (like the Darth Vader rumble that came before each example of demon activity in the first film or the insanely long static shots that, in theory, are suppose to build tension but just built my desire to fall asleep).
|And here's that one scene...look carefully and you'll see the only time the PA series|
gave me the creeps.
I could get into the acting but you already know how good it’s going to be (these films aren’t known for their stellar acting). Even the cast is the usually “I’ve never seen that person before.” One could argue that Katie Featherston (who plays Katie—the part her parents named her to play) is the “star” of the film and deserves mentioning but when you consider her craft is weak and she’ll only be known for being in these awful movies then she really doesn’t qualify as a star anymore than you would qualify me a star in Rockford, Illinois because a certain venue always books me. However, for once a recognizable actor found his way into the movie—and I don’t mean like Tom Cruise-level of recognizable but a “he looks familiar” level.
|Keep searching, you'll never find your career.|
Stephen Dunham, who I recognize as one of the rugged gun-slingers from The Mummy plays the father of the house who’s completely oblivious to the hauntings (because you always need that guy). While he wasn’t a big name, he had some work under his belt and will probably end up being the most recognizable actor to appear in the series. Sadly, he passed away from a heart attack before the film hit theaters…I won’t make a joke about how the franchise killed him through awful filmmaking.
|"Look honey, this is me in a more entertaining movie..."|
Like the other films, the movie wants to reward you (or possible punish you) for making it through the whole film without falling asleep by giving you a twist ending. So far, the endings the films have offered have been pretty “meh” and this one is the “mehiest” of them all. Not only does the story itself offer up a ton of plotholes in the franchise (which will probably end up getting answered in the next film that will end up being a prequel to this one but first the demon has to find another person who films themselves all the time) but the ending ultimately gives you no reward. No frightening moment, no epiphany that makes all of the meaningless crap you just sat through make sense—just a lazy attempt to end it with an even a lazier attempt to try and make you jump one last time.
|And somehow the teenage daughter missed this in the final climax. Then again,|
an army of demon women can sneak up on you.
I know I’m harsh on the franchise and I make fun of it a lot when I review other “found footage” films but it stems from lazy filmmaking. The filmmakers of Paranormal Activity went for the easy buck—because, let’s face it, “found footage” films (especially when done in the States—there are some great ones from over seas) are easy films to make. Story is not an emphasis (the easier the better for them) and plots are completely unnecessary. And the acting…have you ever seen a “found footage” movie made in America that had convincing acting? Sure…but it’s rare because these movies (because they are out to look real) hire unknown actors who don’t even have a commercial on their resumes and usually the end result is either barely a passable realistic reaction to “Are you serious?” levels. Sadly, this usually ends up completely obliterating the realism the directors are going for. These films are quick to put together and usually result in a big box office return. I can’t fault the filmmakers for going for the easy dollar—I’m guilty of taking comedy shows for the sole reason they will pay me a lot and the audience is so loaded they’ll laugh at everything I tell them. However, I can’t give them a reprise from the sheer laziness they showcase and the utter waste of potential they deliver.
The reality is, I could totally enjoy a film like Paranormal Activity 4 (like I said, there are a lot of foreign “found footage” films I enjoy). The thing with a German, a Spanish, an Australian or a Japanese “found footage” film is the fact that while they show the film is the 1st Person Perspective they don’t fall back on the “makes sure the audience sees everything” mentality (in the case of PA, they not only make sure you saw it but show you every haunting occurrence two or three times—usually in the form of “reviewing” the footage we, the audience, just witnessed). They offer a breeding ground of subtle terror and elements that fill the background and shadows that makes you question if you saw something. These films turns your imagination against you the way classic American horror films like The Exorcist and Jaws did—yeah, I know most of the tension delivered by filming around the shark in Jaws had to do with the fact the damn shark didn’t work but that accident helped prove what guys like Hitchcock showed for years: Our imagination is the scariest goddamn thing to ever exist.
|WHOA!!! Too much face.|
Paranormal Activity 4 and its predecessors are not about trying to terrify you. They just want the instant gratification of the “quick scare” or making you jump at loud noises. Whether it was intentional of the franchise or not, the films are a commentary on our society. We don’t want to wait for anything anymore. We love our fast food, our convenient stores, we want everything and we want it now. We don’t want to go home to cook and rather than take the time to make a sweet treat, it’s easier to buy a Snickers bar. We don’t want to work out to get healthy; we’d rather eat and be instantly gratified or just have surgery to close off our bellies. We don’t want our horror films cultivating a story and building tension that leaves you short of breath, sweating from your forehead and palms and makes your heart go berserk in your chest. We want our scares now, we don’t want to wait for them or invest in them. These films are built on the idea of “checking your brain at the door” and while that’s not an entirely a bad thing (sometimes I just want to watch a movie that has pretty explosions in it and nothing more, I’ll admit it) the glaring and obvious lack of creativity and wasted potential the PA films broadcast is just heartbreaking.
There, I finally admit, my hatred of the films stem from the fact they could have been so much more. If they would have added more scenes that offered glimpses of the demon in the background or had a shadow move irregularly that made you do a double-take and offered up far, far less static shots of beds, douche bags with cameras and something other than door slamming such things as bad acting and a simple story could be overlooked for me because it became chilling. Instead, they went the easy route and it ended up making them a lot of money. So they did something right but doing something entirely wrong.