‘Paranormal Activity 4’: What a horror
Published: Monday, October 29, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 29, 2012 12:10
Losing sight of what made the franchise a success in the first place, “Paranormal Activity 4” has sadly fallen into the cliché of repeating the same thing more than once, perpetuating its decline with audiences. The seemingly “authentic” portrayal of real-life ghosts and supernatural phenomena now borders on the mundane and over-used.
The original “Paranormal Activity” was terrifying not because it had expensive special effects or excessive amounts of gore, but because director Oren Peli was an expert in tension, to the point of the softest creak of a door hinge could make us jump.
In contrast, I don’t think I’ve ever been as relaxed during a horror movie as I was during “Paranormal Activity 4.” The scares are theoretically bigger and badder this time around, but sloppy storytelling from directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman undermines any impact they could have had. After three great installments, the low-budget horror series has finally lost its way.
“Paranormal Activity 4” picks up a few years after the original “Paranormal Activity” left off, shifting the focus from haunted sisters Katie (Katie Featherston) and Kristi (Sprague Grayden) to a suburban family in Nevada.
When a neighbor falls ill, the family agrees to take in her “weirdo” son (Brady Allen) for a few days while she recovers in the hospital.
It’s not long before teen daughter Alex (Kathryn Newton) notices strange things happen around the son, and she enlists the help of her boyfriend and frequent iChat partner Ben (Matt Shively) to get to the bottom of it.
If “Paranormal Activity 4” maintains some semblance of tension in the first act, it’s mainly because of the edginess left over from the first three films. Since all of them spooked me, I waited on edge the edge of my seat for this one to do the same. But by twenty minutes in, it was clear this was a different beast. Part of the problem is simply that, being the fourth installment of a franchise, much of the original mystique is gone. We know that the nice, clean-cut family will ignore the unexplained bumps and mysterious shadows until it’s too late, and that we’ll get to see their grisly ends through found footage.
But the real issue with “Paranormal Activity 4” is the storytelling, which is downright insulting in its laziness. Robbie’s otherworldly creepiness is telegraphed from the moment he appears, and from there events proceed exactly as you think they would with nary a twist to be found. All the while, none of the characters seem properly terrified. The urgent fear that made the earlier films so enjoyably unbearable has been replaced by a vague concern. Even Alex, the only person in the household who realizes that something is seriously off, can’t be bothered to fix her cameras when they stop working.
The directors’ failure is especially surprising, and disappointing, given that they also helmed the spine-tingling “Paranormal Activity 3.” “Paranormal Activity 4” feels less like a fresh installment of a beloved series and more like a beloved rip-off of the same. The lo-fi shaky-cam aesthetic, middle-class suburban setting and doors that shut themselves in the middle of the night remain the same. The devotion to relative realism, believable characters, and simmering tension has been tossed out the window. The ending of “Paranormal Activity 4” is indeed pretty frightening, but not in the way the filmmakers might have hoped. The ending of the film suggests that more “Paranormal” films will be made, and that’s a path I don’t care to follow.