[Review] – Paranormal Activity 4

29 Oct

Title: Paranormal Activity 4
Year: 2012
Directors: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Writer: Christopher Landon, based on a story by Chad Feehan
Starring: Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton, Brady Allen, Matt Shively
MPAA Rating: R, language and some violence/terror
Runtime: 88 min
IMDb Rating: 4.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 27%
Metacritic: 43

Halloween is coming right up so what does that mean? That’s right, a new Paranormal Activity film is coming right up! Ever since the first one came about in 2007 and made over $190 million on a measly budget it became the new thing, replacing Saw as the yearly scary offering every Halloween and it made the whole found-footage style of filmmaking all the rage because of the low-risk, high-reward of it all. The first one was actually pretty terrific, certainly one of the best horror movies this new decade has seen; the second and third installments, however were decidedly weaker, but I still liked both of them a fair bit, handing out a B grade to both of them in 2010 and 2011.

I’m sorry to report, however, that Paranormal Activity 4 breaks that trend. The film will still make a killer at the box office (it’s already at over $60 million on a $5 million budget after a bit over a week) so it’s not as though it will finish off the series (indeed, a Paranormal Activity 5 has already been confirmed for next October), but there’s still no denying that this is, by far, the worst entry this series has given us so far.

You could argue that it’s still kind of notable that this one doesn’t downright suck because this whole franchise hangs on the same premise each time around so you’d think that it wouldn’t have lasted as long as it has. Well, it has lasted long and this new one does get a few nice scares in but the fact is that the way this one’s handled does show that the premise may now be running on empty fumes and will be delivering increasingly diminishing returns from now on. It really kind of made me feel that, creatively, the jig was up.

I don’t know just how much I want to say about the plot because a) people will maybe want to be left unspoiled, and b) it doesn’t really matter all that much because all of these plots are pretty much the same. But anyways, as you might have gathered from the trailer, this is a sequel to Paranormal Activity 2, set about five years after the events of that film, and Katie and her son (who’s now been renamed Robbie) move into a new town and will obviously make a lot of very weird stuff start happening around their new neighbors.

It just doesn’t really work. The attempts these films keep making to try and wrap it all up under one big mythology are starting to really fail, it makes the films move in a very forced way and I doubt all that many people go into these films for that sense of continuity or serialization, not to mention that after a little twist in the middle of the movie that I may have already given away (sorry!) the film starts behaving a lot like the second installment of the series. I still liked the effect some of the scares had, which is why I’m not giving this one a lower grade, but I just can’t bring myself to recommend a film that took a franchise that once seemed wildly innovative and made it seem like an utter commercial move.

Who knows what will happen to the franchise in the future. I mean, it will obviously keep existing for a at least a few more films, but quality-wise it’ll all be pretty different. The Saw movies also saw a considerable decline in quality after the initial trilogy (though those first films were worse than the first ones of this franchise) and then died off after a seventh installment. This one starts feeling like leftovers that exchanges the slow-burn scares for the cheaper shocks, like they played it safe, like now it’s at that point in the franchise where only the fanboys will really dig these films.

Then again, maybe this was a one-off slip-up and you could argue that this one pretty much just plays like a feature-length prologue to the upcoming Paranormal Activity 5, because a part of me kind of thought that once or twice while watching this, and that maybe it’ll all be back to normal when they don’t have to worry about setting stuff up. I don’t know, I’m making excuses for something I don’t want to make excuses for.

Yes, the special effects are amped for this one just like they were amped up for the third one and directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (who also did the third one) at least keep pushing that aspect of the films forward no matter how much the rest of them are stuck in their old ways. Plus you obviously get a few new ways to discover the supernatural beings that are doing the same thing as always but in a new house, like when the kids are playing Kinect and they turn off the lights and they see the sensors are recognizing someone who isn’t there.

Still, there’s no denying that Paranormal Activity 4 is the worst of the series to date, and the one that may suggest the series may not have all that much left to offer anyways. The ending was also something that really turned me off about this whole thing, not only was it something that was straight out of that one found-footage film from a decade ago that started all the low-budget craze, but it was something that it didn’t deserve and made it all feel off. Again, this may be a slip-up to set-up a superior fifth film; here’s hoping.

Grade: C+

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