Paranormal Activity 4
The impossible-to-kill franchise that is "Paranormal Activity" is in its fourth leg this Halloween and shows no signs of slowing down. The low budget indie that re-invigorated the "found footage" genre of horror films, "Paranormal Activity" became something of a phenomenon, scaring the bejesus out of audiences and making a fortune in the process.
The nice thing about the sequels is that they are taken seriously and don’t simply copy what has been done in previous editions. While each successive film somehow incorporated found footage (whether it was a home surveillance system or the equipment of a wedding videographer) the filmmakers have kept this inventive and attempt to make it logical. (There are moments where this is stretched, but it’s easily overlooked.) What the filmmakers also do is continue the mythology of the original story while bringing us fresh faces and situations in which to frighten us.
In "Paranormal Activity 4" we are reminded that in 2006, Katie - the girl who was haunted then possessed at the end of the first installment - kidnapped her sister’s baby, Hunter. Since "Part 3" was a prequel showing the sisters as young girls, the Hunter storyline took a hiatus. But now he’s back and in this edition, the "Paranormal" team gives us a variation on the films before. While the others strictly dealt with a ghost in a house, this one involves a creepy kid who comes to stay with his neighbors for a short time while his mother is ill in the hospital. In this, we get a nod to "The Omen" films and even a little bit of the "stalker" genre.
The family dynamic focuses mainly on teenage daughter Alex (Kathryn Newton) a likeable girl who seems to always be Skyping with her best friend Ben (Matt Shively). This is how we get the found footage aspect going and it’s a nice bit of clever modern play. What Alex is uncomfortable with is the kid next door named Robbie (Brady Allen) who is always lurking around and who ends up staying with them. As soon as he arrives, things get weird and Alex is suspicious that he might have brought something into the house with him. She has Ben set up every computer in the house to constantly record what is happening and thus...; the latest round of suspense-laden scenes begins. And what I mean by that is... nothing in particular has to happen in these movies because as soon as that one ominous chord of music/noise begins and we find ourselves staring at a still room, we are not only searching the screen for what’s going to happen, but we are also frozen with fear because we know we are about to get the crap scared out of us.
I won’t give away details of the scares or the twisty plot (although some of it is easy to figure out), but I will say that Robbie befriends Alex’s brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp) with spooky results, and Alex’s parents are the usual non-believers who ultimately find themselves in dire straits.
What’s impressive here are the actors who need to be given credit for making their work appear completely spontaneous. This is supposed to be real life and not once do you feel like anyone is acting, even with the small children. It’s a hard feat to pull off, yet the actors in every one of the "Paranormal" movies have excelled at it. Even nicer is the fact that the writers didn’t make the lead teenager unlikeable. She’s never typically a movie teenager and because of that we not only like her, we are also upset when she’s in danger. In fact, both Ben and Alex are so appealing and quite funny that I truly came to care about them.
Also impressive about "Part 4" is the way the writers have woven in moments from the previous films and made them clever nods rather than simply doing the same stunt again. For example, the "someone is sucked backwards out of the room" moment is given a tongue-in-cheek nod here. I also liked the way they referenced other horror films. The aforementioned "Omen" sequence is pretty funny and unnerving.
I’ll admit, this installment is not as scary as its predecessors. (Most of the scares in the first half of the movie are fake-outs.) It’s still fun to jump and laugh along with the audience at what a wimp you appear to be. It just could have used more genuine creep-outs. As it goes along the tension gets more solid and the danger is more palpable. The problem is that it ends similarly to one of the other films which is disappointing because the mythology and reason for what is happening still isn’t fully explained. Clearly, we are in for a "Part 5" and from what I understand there will be a Latin spin-off of the films as well. (Stay after the credits for a tease on this.)
Ultimately, this is the weakest of the four films, but at the same time, I was thoroughly entertained. It takes a while to build up, but the filmmakers know how to keep things moving. (Credit must be given to Film Editor Gregory Plotkin who knows when to get out of a scene at just the right moment to make either the comedy or horror work.) While I didn’t leave with the same sense of unease, I did walk out of the film with a smile on my face. Here’s hoping "Part 5" tries to top all four previous films and maybe, just maybe, we’ll get to see what the hell demon keeps clomping around the halls and stairs of the houses in every one of these films. It’s time. And it’s here’s hoping it freaks us the hell out.