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The story takes place in 2011, five years after Katie killed her boyfriend Micah, sister Kristi, her husband Daniel and took their baby, Hunter. Story focuses on Alex and her family experiencing weird stuff since the new neighbors moved in the town. Written by
Rustles up basic, cookie-cutter scares and shortchanges the exposition it needs to begin piecing together
It has become an unintentional October ritual that I decorate the house for Halloween, watch a few horror films, and, since 2009, see the latest installment of the Paranormal Activity franchise. When I walked out of the original film on that faithful October morning, I hoped that the wonderful picture I had just saw would be left alone, and not have the albatrosses known as sequels leaching off of it.
Now I'm faced with the fourth film in the genre, directed by the extremely talented directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who made one of 2010's finest documentaries, Catfish. This installment is a small improvement over the uninspired third part, yet it has little to offer. The characters are a tad more tolerable, and some sequences, including the end, have a bit more life in them, but when the moments examine the paranormal inactivity of it all, it becomes totally vanilla.
After two films we finally reconnect with Katie from the original film, this time, living on an upper-middle class suburban block with Hunter from the second film. Only in this part, he's called "Robbie," not "Hunter" and is about six years old. Don't question. Turns out, they have moved across the street from fifteen year old Alex (Kathryn Newton), her tech-savvy boyfriend Ben, who doesn't live there but might as well (Matt Shively, of True Jackson, VP fame), her younger brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp), and her parents (Stephen Dunham and Alexondra Lee). When Katie is taken to the hospital for unknown reasons, Robbie (Brady Allen), who already loves to venture into the neighbors' backyard and hang out in the treehouse, is sent to be cared for at Alex's home for the next few days.
Robbie immediately strikes up an unsettling friendship with Wyatt, and it isn't long before Alex and her goofy boyfriend become victim to the paranormal activity occurring in the household. Everything from falling chandeliers, to dining room chairs moving out abruptly, to knives falling, loud thumps, and alarms claiming "FRONT DOOR OPEN, BACK DOOR OPEN" occur and there is little consistency with anything.
Many different cameras are utilized throughout the film, mainly Alex's webcam on her laptop, which she apparently carts around with her everywhere she goes. The main camera is the one on the Xbox 360's Kinect (for those unaware, a mechanism that now comes equipped with the console, which allows the person to use the tiny sensor on the device to utilize motion control and be able to control their character without a formal controller), which, when on, creates little small, green dots that glow and showcase night-vision movement. It's a nifty little novelty, and we can at least see that Joost and Schulman have respectively tried to breed life back into the way these pictures are filmed.
Thank goodness, because there's little that can be done with the story and the scares. We get a barrage of different jump scares, many inactive nights, and lots of abrupt noises always followed up by a startled "hello?" from one of the characters. These films have gotten to be achingly predictable, and it feels like every year since 2010, I've gone on a lunch-date with a person whose intentions I like, but personality and charm I've come to loathe.
I think besides the nifty camera-work, what elevates Paranormal Activity 4 from the monotony and the drabness of the previous installment, is the fact that we have at least marginally tolerable characters to watch as well. Alex and Ben are at times, a humorous riot, and at others, dreadfully unremarkable. Easily, they are the most fun to be with since Katie and Micah, but Katie and Micah were at least trapped in a film that was fun to experience for the first time in a fresh, original manner. Here, we've become so accustomed to this formula that we continue to anticipate every twist and every turn, and we watch in plain awe to see the films border more and more on the line of self-parody.
So, let's say Joost and Schulman make the decision to direct the inevitable Paranormal Activity 5 and Paranormal Activity 6. What they should focus on, instead of repetitive, dead-end jump scares, is giving the audience some insight as to what is haunting Katie and her family and how it came to be. It seems every film, we get a different entity and no explanation surrounding it. When will we get the explanation of Katie's action during the first installment? Or her sister's spontaneous ones in the sequel? Or what about "Toby," or whoever the imaginary figure was in the third film? And don't forget about whatever the hell that was at the end of the third film, and this film, for that matter. Just another sidenote; the last fifteen minutes of this film did not scar me for life, much like its predecessor's.
Paranormal Activity 4 is effective in rustling up scare-attempt after scare-attempt on a basic level, yet shortchanges the larger questions that would offer insight to Katie's family if explored. Some viewers may not want to be bothered by lengthy explanations of the countless questions still at hand or the numerous symbols that have been associated with the demonic creatures in these films. Perhaps so, but to watch the fourth film in a series continue to be resistant in exploring the exposition of its characters doesn't seem like an ideal move. Considering audiences seem to be tiring from the bang-and-scare features the found footage genre has inspired, it would be a pity to see this franchise die before it can fully clean up its messy tracks.
Starring: Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Katie Featherston, Brady Allen, Aiden Lovekamp, Stephen Dunham, and Alexondra Lee. Directed by: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman.
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