Confession: I still have not seen the first Paranormal Activity. I always felt that I saw everything about it I needed to know with the footage that was included in the second film. Katie gets possessed and kills her boyfriend. I really enjoyed the second film and loved the third one.
With the third film, I was most impressed with how they were able to show us all that we needed to see with the technological limits of the 80's. It displayed a lot of creativity and that is one of the reasons I really love the film. But the fourth film takes place in 2011 (five years after Katie makes off with baby Hunter at the end of the second film), and there really aren't any more limits to what we can do with our technology. So, were the Catfish guys able to spin another absorbing chapter in this tale of demonic possession, covens, and child abduction?
...sort of, I guess.
Paranormal Activity 4
As I mentioned above, Paranormal Activity 4 takes place five years later, in November 2011. Alex (Kathryn Newton) is a rich white girl who has an iPhone (most of the footage is shot with it), a sweet Apple laptop (the whole family has laptops up the wazoo, the rest of the footage is captured with their built-in webcams), a little brother named Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp), a possibly creepy boyfriend named Ben (Matt Shively), and parents whose marriage is teetering on the brink of divorce (the late Stephen Dunham and Alexondra Lee). Her semi-idyllic life is sent into upheaval when her mom decides that they're going to take care of the weird neighbor kid, Robbie (Brady Allen), after his 'mother' (series staple/demon-puppet Katie Featherston) gets taken away in an ambulance. Weird stuff starts happening and Alex, being a dumb white girl, decides to investigate. Things, true to the franchise, get progressively worse from there.
Before the movie yesterday, I was talking to my friend and co-worker Edgar about how, in relation to Sinister, all these horrible things tend to happen to white people. You don't often see families of other cultures sticking their noses in stuff like this. I found it hard to argue with. Sometimes, like in The Possession, it's not their fault. Your daughter gets possessed and you gotta do what you gotta do to save her, right? But in Sinister, Ethan Hawke is tempting fate by delving further and further into the haunted snuff film investigation. Hell, in The Blair Witch, three white kids decide to go searching for a witch. They got what they deserved. I may be wrong, but I don't think there's any movie, at least domestically, where three African-American people take a camera into the woods searching after some spooky legend. This was an observation that stuck in my head as I watched Paranormal Activity 4.
Alex's family is rich. Not in-ground pool rich, but five chandelier rich. No, really. Her father establishes they have not one, not two, but five chandeliers. Maybe that's not that extraordinary, but I am also a poor person. Heck, I dont even have one chandelier. Thanks a lot, Obama. But seriously, at one point, Ben sees Wyatt's laptop and comments, "Sweet laptop for a six-year-old." Alex responds with "Yeah, he got my hand-me-down." I feel like something about how rich the family was created a disconnect between me and the characters and Alex's plight. Her knack for acting like every dumb slasher character ever by investigating every noise she hears didn't help either. As a jaded horror fanatic, if you're going to investigate the noise, you deserve everything that follows.
The film's presentation wasn't bad. It wasn't the super-impressive 'working with what you have' setup from the third film or the security cameras from the second. Instead, we've got webcams and iPhones. While I often wondered what Alex's compulsive need to record everything she did with her phone, the webcam footage was pretty clever.
However, after the second or third webcam scene, it occurred to me that this is a found-footage movie, and that meant that Ben was recording their chats. Now, no less than five minutes after I had this thought, he shows her some creepy footage that was captured and she confronts him, and he explains that his laptop records automatically. I don't know a lot about laptops (I've been using a prototype Chromebook with a cracked screen plugged into a desktop monitor for the better half of a year), but I don't think that's a standard feature. Ben was clearly hoping for some hot webchat sexting, or whatever the kids call it these days. At one point he does actually ask her to show some boobie. And he was recording these chats. Sure, it becomes the plot device that allows them to capture the paranormal activities (doho!) going on in the house by turning every laptop in the house (at least four) into constantly-recording cameras, but Ben is still, probably, a creep.
While the acting was by-and-large nothing more than standard, big points go to Brady Allen and Aiden Lovekamp. It's easy for little kids to be creepy but Brady Allen knocks it out of the ballpark and Aiden Lovekamp was absolutely a delight as Wyatt. The other characters, however, skated the razor's edge of paper-thin horror archetypes. The parents were, for some reason, completely unwilling to listen to Alex, almost to the point of parody. As I mentioned earlier, Alex investigated every single bump in the night she heard. Ben was the hapless boyfriend who you just know isn't going to live to see the next film. I really liked the characters in Paranormal Activity 3. I didn't necessarily care that much about Kristi and her family in Paranormal Activity 2, but man-oh-man, Alex's parents were total douche bags, the mother especially.
My big problem with this film is they lob a huge curve ball at the audience about two-thirds of the way through the film that, at least until Paranormal Activity 5 comes out, remains unexplained. That was really frustrating. I can't go on about it without spoiling the film, but gee whiz was I pissed off at the lack of explanation. Yes, there's five years that we have no insight into, but this was a pretty big development for them to drop on us and then not explain. Also, the tenuous "can't watch the footage of the really paranormal stuff" plot device? Blow me, Catfish guys.
Despite the paper-thin, super-rich characters I didn't feel all that connected to and unresolved plot-threads, there was a creepy ambiance. My best pal Pat pointed out that the jump scares weren't as good this time around, and he was right. Still, seeing child-like figures lit up and given form by the X-Box Kinect was inventive, and the climax, which was pitifully short, was nonetheless intense.
As long as you go into this movie which no intention of plot-advancement or expectations of anything remotely resembling resolutions, and instead enjoy it for the dumb but effective scare-fest that it is, the fourth installment of this franchise is enjoyable. It won't hold me over 'til the next one by any stretch of the imagination, but at least I'm excited for a fifth go-round.