Back in 2009, a movie came out that brought something new and refreshing to the “found footage” genre of horror movie made so popular by The Blair Witch Project a decade before. That film was Paranormal Activity. Like its snotty-faced muse, it was very low budget and had a certain simplicity to it. It relied on a single handicam being placed in a bedroom every night to capture what spooky shenanigans were occurring. Audiences loved it, so inevitably the sequel hit screens the following year. And in a pattern resembling Saw, we’re now seeing sequels summoned on a yearly basis to coincide with Halloween. But is Paranormal Activity 4 a devilish return to form, or is it just a pale apparition of what went before?
If you’ve been following the franchise thus far then this film returns back to the “regular” timeline set forth in Paranormal Activity and Paranormal Activity 2, but does draw on plotlines exposed in the prequel, Paranormal Activity 3. I know, I too wish they’d just called Paranormal Activity 3 “Paranormal Activity: Inception, or Origins, or The Summoning”… just something to make the chronology a little easier to comprehend! Regardless, it follows on from the massacre at the hands of Katie (Katie Featherston) in PA2. And guess what? She’s gone walkabout with Hunter and ended up in a new neighbourhood – a new neighbourhood that houses our lead, Alex (Kathryn Newton), and her family. Inevitably, spooky things start happening and the Paranormal Activity storyline is developed… very, very slowly… and not in an interesting new way.
The big “hook” this time is the use of modern technology to capture the activity, namely webcams and X-box Kinect’s detection system. I’ve got to say, it worked, but it wasn’t as effective as it could have been, and nowhere near as interesting as what went before. The main problem is that in previous instalments the cameras were positioned in such a way that you became very familiar with the room over time. The nature of a webcam mounted to a laptop is that it travels and moves a hell of a lot; thus breaking some of this continuity. Sure, some of these cameras are artificially “fixed” to capture the action, but it somewhat removed some of the tension by having them so mobile.
The next thing you’ve got to come to with a horror film is… the horror, the scares, the tension. And I’ve got to say that spare the last 3 minutes, the film is incredibly light on all of the former. The Paranormal Activity franchise has got a reputation as being a “slow burner” and one that gradually ramps up the tension, but this takes “slow burner” to an entirely new level. This is very slow. And the menace is somewhat removed by the silhouette outlined by the Kinect sensor’s projections. In previous films, you’ve come to use your imagination to conjure up what this demon looks like. Hell, in Paranormal Activity you saw those weird trotter / three-toed imprints in the talcum powder, and in Paranormal Activity 3 you had that snorting sound. I was imagining one hell of a demon. All of this is destroyed somewhat in PA4. You’ll see what I mean if you head out to see it.
And how could I forget the return of my friend “LOUD NOISES!”. Yes, he’s back and with a vengeance this time around. The majority of the startlings are a result of the loud noises. I’m well aware that Paranormal Activity pioneered this approach, so I’m not expecting it to vanish, but a little more terror would have been appreciated. And god knows I rambled enough about this issue in my review of Sinister, which in retrospect was probably a better film than Paranormal Activity 4. In all aspects. The acting here isn’t bad, as Kathryn Newton is a very likeable lead and carries the film well, but its the shambolic writing that lets the film down so badly. I’m sick to death of the family never believing there’s a ghost until they’re crucified on a clothes line or suspended from the rafters by a dressing gown cord.
And the plot holes? My oh my are there plot holes! Although some would ruin the film, just ask yourself “who is Katie’s child?” – the one that she initially turns up with, because it sure as hell isn’t Hunter from Paranormal Activity 2. Who is he? Why does she have him? And just why the hell do they bother to record ghostly happenings if they never check the bloody tapes!? I’m half-expecting the already-commissioned Paranormal Activity 5 to deal with the unknown child to be honest. And inevitably I’ll be going to the cinema to see what they’ve cooked up this time. Hopefully something a little more refreshing and interesting…
Paranormal Activity 4 isn’t a bad movie, but it’s not even in the same league as the original. Many of the scares have been removed and the pre-requisite for imagination has been checked at the cloakroom. It was the fear of not knowing what the demon looked like that made it interesting for me. The addition of a witches’ covenant in Paranormal Activity 3 caught me a little off-guard, and was unwelcome in my eyes, but it added a bit of depth to the saga. This instalment does little to develop the plot.
Ultimately, this film’s developments are tantamount to finding out that the horrible black silhouette of a goblin lurking in the corner of your room is in fact a pile of clothes. It removes the fear and intrigue. Maybe I missed the point of the “silhouette” cast by the demon here, but the film certainly didn’t develop this image I have in my head. I certainly won’t be calling the Ghostbusters. Especially if Bill Murray isn’t coming to crack some jokes. Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2 – now THEY were scary movies! I’ve never looked at a fridge or bathtub the same since. Probably why I’m malnourished and odorous.