I’ll admit it; I’m a big found footage film fan! Ever since my first viewing of The Blair Witch Project (which by the way is a great film that people should stop talking shit about), I’ve been a sucker for any film where people feel compelled to keep filming the horror their experiencing beyond all limits of logic. There’s just something innately eerie about seeing something terrible happen to people on low resolution video…with the exception of an episode of Tosh.0.
Not all of these movies are good. In fact, most are bad. You can’t just follow people around with a shaky camera and night vision and assume it’ll be scary (unless you do it to real people at 3:00 in the morning in the parking lot of a Rite Aid…trust me). Most of the time, it just comes off like a typical boring episode of Ghost Hunters. And when big budgets are thrown at these movies, you get turds like Cloverfield with great effects and shitty everything else. That being said, you can imagine my delight at seeing the first three Paranormal Activity films that managed, more or less, to finally get this whole “found footage” thing right. That is, until the perfectly dreadful Paranormal Activity 4.
With Paranormal Activity 3 being a prequel, Paranormal Activity 4 picks up pretty much where Paranormal Activity 2 left off: The demon possessed Katie has just killed her sister Kristi and has taken her son Hunter off to Satan knows where. Cut to a few years later: Middle-aged couple Holly (Alexondra Lee) and Doug (Stephen Dunham) and kids Alex (Kathryn Newton) and Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp) are being stalked by a creepy little boy named Robbie (played by Brady Allen, who reminds me of the kid version of Michael Shannon from Boardwalk Empire). Robbie is the child of the woman who lives across the street and after she suffers from a supposed medical emergency, Holly temporarily takes him in. Robbie quickly develops an unhealthy relationship with Wyatt, and introduces him to his not-so-imaginary friend. Soon, some unusual but pretty uninteresting supernaturalish things start to occur, leading Alex and her boyfriend, Ben (Matt Shively), to start filming everything in sight with every recording device at their disposal. So to sum it all up, we’re now about 35 minutes in and the film has finally started.
What follows from this point is an annoying barrage of fake scares, including a series of abrupt jump cuts. Yep, you read me right; they’re trying to scare us with jump cuts!!! Then, there’s a bunch of paranormal same ole, same ole: Various floating household items, loud booming room tone, people being pulled out of rooms by nothing, and doors opening by themselves. I love the fact that demons have the ability to travel from their hellish dimension into ours and possess our bodies, yet still have to open doors! Maybe all you need to do to cleanse your home of a malicious paranormal entity is lock the door? Although it then might get a bit frustrating constantly hearing things like, “Hey guys, it’s the demon! Can you open the door?! I’m really sorry about dragging you down the stairs all those times!”
Look for a completely contrived sequence where Holly gives her daughter Alex some sleeping pills, just so we can have a scene where she levitates above her bed, unaware that any of this is happening. Yeah, that was a spoiler but trust me, if you end up seeing this movie, you’ll have already checked out by this point.
I love Halloween and especially love going to Universal Studios Halloween Haunts. The various horror franchise-themed mazes get better and better every year, always creative, yet sticking with the basic scary maze format. But if year after year, it was the same gauntlet of temp workers jumping out of the dark and shaking a coffee can filled with dried beans at me, it would start to get old. Not only are Paranormal Activity 4’s scares unoriginal, they rely on a timid array of watered down shocks from the previous films and takes forever to get to them.
You spend a lot of time watching teenagers talk on Skype and squinting at annoying green dotted night vision shots, trying to figure out if, when, and where the paranormal activity is actually happening. It’s like the supernatural version of Where’s Waldo! “Where’s the demon? Oh, there it is! It just made the Felix the Cat clock stop. I guess that’s…sort of creepy. Sigh. Wait! Is that the outline of the demon?! No, it’s just an eyelash caught in my contact lens. I can’t believe that Bausch and Lomb are doing a better job at frightening me than this movie!” Look, I have no problem with a horror film slowing building to create tension, but there’s a difference between creating tension and boring people to death. This is not All The President’s Men! Scare me goddammit! And keeps the scares coming!
Paranormal Activity 4 is really a missed opportunity. I would have loved to have seen a great movie about what happened to Katie and Hunter and how they manage to destroy the lives of yet another family of lovable suburbanites. And considering how much I enjoyed Paranormal Activity 3 (in which directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman hit you with everything but the paranormal kitchen sink), I was really ready to like this new film, but I suppose this series was bound to jump the shark eventually. Joost, Schulman, and writers Zack Estrin and Christopher B. Landon are already stretching credulity with the idea that four separate families just happen to be obsessed with filming every second of their lives. I guess you could explain this by rationalizing that maybe the demon willed its victims to engage in all this camera work. Maybe this entity is just like any typical Hollywood actor…always trying to get more footage to add to his reel.
If there’s anything positive I can say about this mess, it’s that child actors Aiden Lovekamp and Brady Allen are outstanding. Both of their performances gave me a cold chill down my spin, but, to be fair, most children give me that feeling. I also enjoyed Katie Featherston who plays Katie in all the Paranormal Activity films. She can come off normal and pleasant (not to mention crazy sexy), then instantly terrifying when she switches into possessed mode. And when she flashes her giant shark-sized demon teeth…well, in my book that only makes her hotter! It’s a woman’s flaws that really get a guy’s attention.
If any of you choose to see Paranormal Activity 4 despite my warnings, be advised that after the credits, there’s an extra bonus sequence. What I was hoping for was that Nick Fury suddenly approaches Katie and Hunter and asks them to join the demon super team he’s forming. But, what I witnessed instead was a scene that I honestly have no idea as to how it fits in with this movie or even a possible next one. Apparently, it’s some kind of public service announcement about exercising courtesy when visiting a Mexican occult mini-mart.
Plan your vacation accordingly.