Found footage films have taken over the genre in the last few years thanks to the success of the Paranormal Activity franchise. In the late 90s, The Blair Witch Project brought the style to the mainstream with a surprisingly scary film. It played on our fears, our imagination, and the unknown. I am fond of the genre, but very few have done it right.
Paranormal Activity 4 is not one of them.
Paranormal Activity followed a young couple’s experiences with a ghostly haunting in 2006. The wife, Katie, is possessed by the demon in the end and kills her husband. The second movie begins before the events of the first one. It basically has the same story, and it follows Katie’s sister Kristi and her family. Kristi is possessed by the demon, but her husband successfully exorcises it from her and sends it to Katie. We flash back to the events of the first movie, and Katie shows up at her sister’s house the next night. She kills Kristi and her husband, kidnaps their infant son Hunter, and disappears. The third movie takes place in 1988, and is a prequel about Kristi and Katie when they were children. They are tormented by the same demon, and we come to find out that their grandmother is a witch in a coven that is responsible for all of these events.
PA4 takes place 5 years after the second installment. A typical family in Nevada (mother and father, their teenage daughter Alex, and their 6 year old son Wyatt) are living a pretty normal life. Some new neighbors move in across the street (an unseen mother and her 6 year old son Robbie). Alex films everything for some reason (It’s never explained.). Right away, we are forced to step away from reality. At Wyatt’s soccer game, the strange boy Robbie shows up at the park watching the game. Then, they see the young boy walking home afterwards. First of all, there was no need to be filming during this scene. Secondly, what person doesn’t get concerned when they see a 6 year old boy walking down a busy street alone? The movie gets off track immediately and loses the audience as well.
Alex and her boyfriend discover Robbie hiding in her tree house, and they take him home. That night, Robbie’s mother (still unseen) is taken away by ambulance and Robbie is entrusted to the family because they don’t have anybody else to care for him (Again, horrible setup that we are expected to believe and breaks the feeling of reality.). Robbie and Wyatt become friends, and Robbie introduces Wyatt to his Invisible Friend. The teens tape all of this for some unknown reason.
Strange things begin happening to Alex, and she decides to turn on all of the family’s webcams to document the happenings at all hours. They even install a camera the living room as there is no computer. This kind of helps kill the Why are they taping this?? questions, but it leads to different questions: Why do the characters keep returning their laptops to the same camera positions? Don’t they ever turn them off or use them? Why don’t they notice that the webcam is on? Who leaves their Xbox on all the time??
This leads to the biggest problem of the movie. Alex’s parents think she is crazy because she is telling them all about this weird stuff that is happening. In fact, she is trapped in the garage by the demon that starts a car trying to kill her. She breaks the window and runs the car through the garage door. Her parents chastise Alex, and she tries to explain what happened. I yelled at the tv, “SHOW THEM THE DAMN TAPE!!!!”. The events in the movie happen over a 2 week period. There is no way she forgot she was documenting everything.
That scene epitomizes Paranormal Activity 4. Found footage only works if you don’t question it. Blair Witch, Cloverfield, Grave Encounters, V/H/S…They all got away with it because they had some reason to be taping. PA4 doesn’t. Despite the Kinect/night vision, every shot was something we’ve scene before. Creepy is not just a camera with night vision, or a bump off camera. And that Kinect thing was cool for a moment, but like I said, who leaves their Xbox on all the time?
Of course, we get the huge payoff scene at the end that this franchise thrives on. It’s a little more extended than the other ones, so there’s that. We also have a little more action in this one like the garage scene, a chandelier falling, etc…but there’s still not a whole lot. I jump just as much as anybody else when I hear an unexpected bump at my house. But this movie beats that into the ground…quickly. Every character reacts to every situation with astonishment. If you took a shot every time somebody said “What the f…?”, you’d be drunk after 20 minutes. And that’s before any action happens. They react that way to normal everyday occurrences!
Paranormal Activity 4 just hit Netflix, and the trailer for the upcoming franchise installment hit the internet Friday (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones). If you are looking for a horror movie that you can probably get your significant other to watch, then this film will do based on name recognition. If you are looking for more than 90 minutes of filler and a decent 10 minute finale, then there are much better ones out there.