"Paranormal Activity 4" too mundane to be truly scary
Courtesy | filmofilia.com
Just in time for the Halloween revelry, “Paranormal Activity 4” offers more found-footage thrills of spooky shadows, demonic noises, levitating bodies, pagan cults and invisible friends. Horror movies these days are so frustratingly recycled and this newest installment of the “Paranormal” series offers very little to rescind that fact. This series has acquired millions of dedicated fans since the first movie back in 2009, which grossed around $193 million worldwide on a $15,000 budget. But the scares offered by this fourth chapter are cheap, the characters are unlikable and the story forced, most likely because the franchise has now become more of a cash cow than a continuing creative endeavor.
“Paranormal 4” has moved beyond the Rey family featured in “Paranormal 2” and the starkly cursed sisters Katie — who was featured in “Paranormal Activity” — and Kristy, whose origin stories were revealed in “Paranormal 3.” In “Paranormal 4,” we meet the teenage Alex (Kathryn Newton) and her average suburban family — her mother Holly (Alexondra Lee), her father Doug (Stephen Dunham) and little brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp). The “Paranormal” series seems to thrive off of the characters’ apparent need to film everything. Alex is no exception, using her laptop’s webcam to chat constantly with her boyfriend, Ben (Matt Shively), as well as record other things once the plot gets rolling.
Utilizing the fear of the unknown
One night Alex sees an ambulance outside of the neighbor’s house, and the next day Robbie (Brady Allen) shows up with Holly, who has agreed to take care of him while his mother is in the hospital. Right off the bat, Alex can tell there is something wrong with little Rob, especially when she finds him and Wyatt talking to an invisible entity in the family treehouse. From then on, eerie things take place on the property and, as in hundreds of formula-driven horror joints, Alex seems to be the only one concerned about them, save for Ben who helps her install laptops all over the house in order to record whatever’s happening when she’s asleep.
Most of these supernatural spooks involve Robbie and Wyatt together, be it talking to the invisible friend or chasing the silhouette of a child around the house in the dead of night. One of the more innovative parts of the movie is when it uses the famous Xbox Kinect tracking dots to reveal something normally unseen. Besides that, there are no real jump-out-of-your-seat moments; the scares were predictable and I felt a sense of security the whole time I watched. A truly effective horror movie should have you squirming with unease and adrenaline, waiting desperately to see what’s around every corner or behind the eyes of each character.
Robbie ends up being the source of a long line of paranormal events, and it becomes Alex’s charge to save her family from the demonic force he has brought into their house as well as the threat of his mysterious mother. An edge to all of the “Paranormal” movies has been their use of actors who are virtually unknown. This is smart because it allows you to see the characters as average people, making the world of the story all the more real. However, bad acting and overly-stimulated frights take away so much of the legitimacy behind what could be raw and terrifying.
Destined to take the route of the "Saw" movies
At this point, the “Paranormal” franchise has become the next “Saw” wave. I wouldn’t be surprised if it reached the likes of “Paranormal 8,” allowing for another four Halloween seasons of the same kind of tired scares and plot development. I think that the people behind “Paranormal” have forgotten what made the first film so frighteningly special — back in 2009, director Oren Peli and Blumhouse Productions took $15,000 and created a disturbingly believable depiction of a young couple’s suburban haunting, all shown from the perspective of the husband’s single video camera.
To this day, the original “Paranormal Activity” is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen because it plays off of the tension between the couple and the way the spirit affects their lives and their relationship. It was excessively realistic, and used simple things like heavy footsteps and swinging doors to evoke a sense of danger in the unseen. Now in the growing number of sequels, special effects and elaborate set pieces have diminished the uniqueness set by the first movie and instead limited the films to a kind of Halloween gimmick. This happened with the “Saw” saga, and seems to be a fate suffered by most low-budget successes that fall into the Hollywood money-making trend. What a shame.