Film Review – Paranormal Activity 4
Another year, another Paranormal Activity film. At this point, if you aren’t sure what to expect walking into this, then you must have been living under a rock for the last few years. With this latest entry in the series, the aptly titled Paranormal Activity 4, we are introduced to yet another family in yet another spooky house. Insert some strange noises, some lights turning on and off for no reason, furniture moving around on its own, and you end up with a movie pretty much exactly same as the previous three. While Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) was a step up and had some nice creative touches, this was a step down—way down. In fact, this is the epitome of everything critics of the series have complained about. Instead of a horror movie, this is actually one of the funnier comedies of the year, and I don’t mean that as a compliment.
My biggest issue is how uninspired it felt. Each of the previous three movies has followed the same progression: one person of a household using a camera to capture what they believe to be a supernatural presence among them. This movie felt as though the filmmakers simply went through the steps of the story, like checking off each item of a grocery list. None of the characters were fleshed out, and what worked well in the first film has lost its luster here. What made the original Paranormal Activity (2007) refreshing was its sense of newness. There was an element of discovery about it; we weren’t sure where it would go or what surprises were in store for us. Here, that element is gone. The title cards that mark the date of each night are no longer effective. We are anticipating the scares, so now if a door magically opens, a blanket gets tossed off a bed, or a chandelier begins to swing suddenly, it comes off as more comedic than nerve-wracking.
Another problem is that the main characters are no longer adults, but kids. Alex (Kathryn Newton) is the protagonist this time, a fifteen-year-old who suspects that the next-door neighbor’s son, Robbie (Brady Allen), may be more than what he seems. When Robbie’s mom mysteriously becomes ill, Alex’s family takes Robbie in to look after him. Once Robbie’s in the house, Alex begins noticing strange events, especially involving her little brother, Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp). Do Alex’s parents believe her when she tries to explain things? Of course they don’t. So Alex has to take it upon herself, along with her sorta-kinda boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively), to solve the mystery and put a stop to…to…well, whatever it is.
Why is it a problem to have kids as the stars of the movie? Because putting them in mortal danger poses a sticky situation. I counted two scenes where they were in some serious peril (you’ll know which ones I’m talking about when/if you see it), and instead of coming off as thrilling or scary, they felt exploitative. The fact that they are all so young is a very cheap way to gain our sympathies, and the filmmakers (directors Henry Joost/Ariel Schulman, writers Christopher Landon/Chad Feehan) gleefully manipulate that. It also doesn’t help that the actors are unconvincing in their roles. I don’t want to be tough on young Brady Allen, but his performance as Robbie was very stiff; he did not come off as creepy at any point in the movie. Matt Shively plays Ben as a hormones-raging pervert in the making. It’s no question that Ben has the hots for Alex, but how that is portrayed is not cute in the least. If Ben did the same things as an adult, he would be rewarded with a nice restraining order. And in the center is Kathryn Newton, who appears so unaffected by what is occurring around her that we wonder if she isn’t possessed herself.
How will the sure-to-happen Paranormal Activity 5 tie in with the rest of the franchise? PA3 took place in the eighties, and this takes place in 2011 with a seemingly random family. Maybe it will involve the friends of the family that lived in the house next door to the one that their relative’s cousins-twice-removed were staying in. That’s pretty much where this series is going. We’ve jumped back and forth in time so often, and had so many plot contrivances, that we’re a step or two away from a movie that basically has a blank screen that randomly flashes scary-looking faces every few minutes. Save for ONE truly impressive shot at the very end, Paranormal Activity 4 offers very little scares, and more cheese than a grilled sandwich. One thing I thought was amusing: much of the cinematography was based on cameras set in laptops, so if a computer was halfway open or if a person was holding it an odd way, we would get a nice close-up of said person’s forehead or chest area. These shots take place constantly. I think that’s a good metaphor for the movie itself.
Final Grade: D+