Paranormanl Activity 4


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"How bout you give the cameras a break "

March 4th, 2013

With Paranormal Activity 3 being a rather brilliant surprise at what could be achieved within the found footage arena anticipation levels for the 4th couldn't have been raised any higher. Leaving the 80's behind we return to the present for fun with creepy kids, ghosts and Xbox?

Taking place in 2011 the film shifts locations and introduces us to a new family living in Nevada. Teenager Alex and her friend Ben love technology and record most things via their web cams much to the annoyance of their parents and Alex's little brother Wyatt. When a new family move into the neighbourhood a series of strange events begin and really escalate when new kid Robbie comes to stay along with his imaginary friend Toby. Good thing they were recording everything.

While I watched the films in the PA franchise it wasn't until the third film that I had actually begun to really enjoy myself. To that end PA4 was the first of the yearly flicks that I was looking forward to watching rather than sitting through as an exercise in keeping up with current horror movie trends. That's why it's such a shame to say that (aside from the final 10 minutes) this is the worst film of the 4.

The main reason why this one doesn't work is that it's wrapped up in rather tedious treading of water in an attempt to set up the next sequel (much like the later sequels in the Saw franchise). Rather than having its own fully contained tale we end up with a movie homunculus, a half film if you will.

Following on from the prequel it feels rather ironic that it is this movie that feels like a step backwards and less innovative than the idea of a VHS camera mounted on a fan. By staging a reset with the introduction of a new family we are left to baby step our way through the activity as the new cast slowly discover what is going on. In the previous sequels this was a faster process (covered within about 20 minutes) allowing us to get to a point that had moved past any previous movies largest event. This time that's not the case.

The slower build up here is nothing but undermined in its opening moments playing out clips of the previous films conclusions. In those minutes we see some spectacular supernatural abilities which won't be matched until the finale thus making all we see pale in comparison. Secondly it also focuses on Katie who once again relegated to a cameo role leaving us pining for her return, it makes it harder to accept the new cast members (much like watching an X files episode that doesn't feature aliens).

It wouldn't have been such an issue if what we did get was presented in a more appealing manner but the style here manages to be upstaged by the static camera from the original. Even with one handheld camera (used rather sparingly) the majority of the film is shot in a way to simulate the view off various web cams (very clear ones) meaning the viewing angles were smaller and tighter on the actors faces. It was too restrictive reducing the impact of certain sequences and increasing the amount of fake out scares (they really play up family members jumping out on each other off camera).

The webcam setup also leads to an aspect that I found rather distracting. In place to remind us that this was digital video was an irritating buffer effect (broken pixels are a more accurate description) that was not used to raise tension, I don't like it on my PC and I don't want to watch it for fun. The other aspect I disliked was the use of multiple jump cuts throughout, similar to what you would find on a YouTube blog video in an attempt to condense content. This managed to irritate by dropping out of scenes scenes mid dialogue creating a rather broken feel (I never thought I would miss fade transitions).

To stretch things out the entire cast, while quite likeable are made to appear amazingly dense to justify certain events (which at times contradict earlier statements) and the beyond tedious reasons as to why they are still filming ("you and your films"). At first I was impressed that they were actually reviewing the footage and showing it to people but once things actually become aggressive they seem to selectively forget about it when trying to provide evidence to the sceptical despite having documented proof. Plausibility is stretching thin at this point.

Side note - In a film about malevolent spirits, the possessed and cultists I found it odd that I was more offended by the teens in the film abusing their knowledge of technology. By manipulating all the house computers and spying/recording through all the webcams I thought it was a major invasion of privacy (something our lead decries herself when it happens to her), from that point on I welcomed any punishment coming their way.

And boy did that punishment come. The final 10 minutes handed up an intense experience offering up the longest prolonged horrific sequence in the franchise. Part of it worked due to the fact that the new cast were engaging to watch (despite their failings as competent human beings) even with my personal issues of invasion of privacy I wanted them to escape the nightmarish situation. Ending on a creepy image that has stayed with me long after, the movie managed to make a bigger impression than it really should have.

Of course a great ending doesn't excuse the floundering leading up to it. Being the 4th film this sequence really should have been how the film opened up and continued on from there. In terms of the overall mythology we are no better off than we were previously and find ourselves pretty much in the same place we were when the film began.

Many movies are labelled cash grabs as studios pump out sequel after sequel but that has never bothered me. I really do love watching sequels (even bad ones) and I was never bother by such a thing but here I really felt the greed on screen. What I can't seem to fathom is why the most profitable film series of all time (due to the amazingly low production budgets) needs to rely on a sickeningly use of product placement.

The Xbox 360 and its kinect are so prominent they might have well been given a name and added to the cast list. At no point does the pandering to the system ever pay off with the night vision motion sensor dots (that sounds incredibly silly) looking rather silly and hokey. At the end of the movie I had a desire to go out and buy a Playstation rather than an Xbox out of spite.

When Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (they directed the 3rd film) announced they were returning for the 4th I was left finally excited for an entry in the series. After watching their next offering I have been returned to my previous feelings of indifference towards the franchise. PA4 will probably appeal more to new viewers than returning fans but it's defiantly worth a watch on DVD (you can get it rather cheap and you don't really need HD Blu rays for a film of this type).


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Movie Details

Movie Poster Here
Director:Henry Joost
Director:Ariel Schulman
Screenplay: Christopher Landon
Released:2012
Rating: 15
Starring:Kathryn Newton
Matt Shively
Katie Featherston