Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Review: Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)

Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)
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(Originally posted here)

So, this makes four Paranormal Activity movies in six years, and the third in three years. With Saw and the "torture porn" sub-genre it inspired dead as slashers in 1992, and supernatural horror and "found footage" the current trends, this is the franchise that is carrying the torch of mainstream Hollywood horror. As one can reasonably expect for a horror franchise that's at its fourth installment, the franchise is starting to feel as stale a loaf of bread that's been left out for four days, especially when one compares this entry to the superb third installment just last year. We all know the score: a family starts noticing weird shit going bump in the night around them, they set up cameras in their house in order to document it, they find out that it's an invisible demon that's stalking them, somebody gets possessed, Katie (who is looking yummier than ever here, by the way) is in the middle of it all, and everything takes a long dive off a cliff for nearly all involved. Rinse, wash, repeat next October.

The formula still works here, but if you've seen any other film in this series, you'll see every scare, every death, every plot twist coming from a mile away. The main twist here is the use of modern technology that Micah and Katie didn't have access to in 2006 -- video chat, smartphones, and even the Xbox 360's Kinect (would love to know how much Microsoft paid for that product placement) all come into play as demon-watching tools. The gimmickry starts out cool, most notably the fact that, thanks to the Kinect's infrared sensors, we can finally get a glimpse (however vague and immaterial) of the demon. However, the fact that the characters now carry cameras around far more frequently during the big "fright" scenes means that the film slips into two of the "found footage" pitfalls that prior entries in the series, by virtue of their mostly static cameras, had dodged -- the dreaded shaky-cam, and what I call "future record syndrome", or the characters' need to hold onto their cameras at all times even when they're getting in the way ("we have to have a record of this so the world can know!").

In addition, a significant moment that bugged me was that one clear moment of, uh, paranormal activity (the scene of Alex being levitated in her sleep) isn't used to prove to Alex's parents that something weird is going on. We know that her dad thinks she and Ben are SFX/home movie wizards, but seriously? Could a pair of teenagers really pull that off? Not to mention the parents' dismissal of what happened during the garage scene. The arbitrary skepticism of these parents is quite irksome. Also, why does Robbie completely disappear from the film during the third act? After being given such an important place in the story, he's suddenly replaced with Katie as the chief antagonist. At the very least, he should've been by her side, not gone entirely.

Don't get me wrong, like I said, the Paranormal Activity formula still works here. The acting is solid, and there are plenty of scares to go around, of both the jump-scare and the tension-building variety, even if the series is starting to lean increasingly on the former. The ending also leaves the series a direction that it can go in to shake things up for the next movie. After having heard about the cult in the last film, this one gives them a greater (if still unexplained) role in the story. If this film wants to avoid burnout and keep going strong for another few installments, it should put the focus squarely on this cult, who they are and what they are trying to do.

Starting this review, I debated what score to give this film. As stale as it was, it still scared me. However, given that I enjoyed The Possession, a similar film that I rated a 3 out of 5, far more than this, not to mention my many problems with this film, the score became increasingly clear in my head.

Score: 2 out of 5

Good for an hour and a half of decent scares, but the franchise is as rusty as an old Chevy Vega at this point. Wait for it to come out on Redbox. If the next film doesn't shake things up soon, then this series may well go the way of the old Nightmare on Elm Street, devolving into self-parody. The last film proved that they can make another good PA movie -- let's see them do it again.

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