October 19, 2012
Christopher Landon and Chad Feehan
Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Katie Featherston as Katie
Kathryn Newton as Alex
Matt Shively as Alex
Brady Allen as Robbie
Alisha Boe as Tara
Tommy Miranda as Jackson
Paranormal Activity has been quite a phenomenon, spawning three sequels, and hundreds of millions of dollars in theater tickets, DVD sales and VOD fees; a pretty amazing feat for what is started as essentially a home movie with a few lamps swinging around, people standing in the middle of their bedrooms not moving for hours and a Ouija board catching fire. Granted, some creative marketing helped move the needle, but the subtle use of minimal effects realistically caught on hidden camera sealed the deal.
As the franchise has moved forward the effects have gotten more and more pronounced, and the story fleshed out to involve covens of witches and demonic possessions, but always from the point of view of a hand held camera with a home movie feel… and always with the look and feel of a supernatural tragedy befalling relatively normal people.
Paranormal Activity 4 is the first of the sequels that doesn’t either run concurrent with the first one (Paranormal Activity 2) or as a prequel (Paranormal Activity 3). This latest film continues the story, and expands it a bit – a difficult thing to pull off considering this is a collection of home movies. Surprisingly, this film achieves the goal and ultimately makes sense, at least pretty much makes sense. The opening scene shows a recap (reimagining?) of the disappearance of possessed Katie and first-born Hunter from Number 2, and then we settle in with a new family and Alex (Kathryn Newton), a teenage girl who’s life completely revolves around Facetime video chat. It is through the iPhone and computer cameras that the ghostly action is captured this time around. Alex has a young brother Wyatt, and when the kid across the street, Robbie, comes to stay with them expectantly things start to get weird. Maybe it’s Robbie’s invisible friend?
There are mixed reviews about the strength of the story and pacing in PA4, ranging from “stupid and poorly set up story that is boring and drags” (my view) to “the story is more interesting and has more set-up than the stories of the previous PA installments, because it’s not necessary to remember all of the players and recognize their faces to enjoy it” (my movie companion). It is interesting to have the teenager be the one who is aware of strange goings on in the house, while her parents think she’s just being a drama queen, as this is a big difference from the previous scenarios where it seemed the whole household bought into the weirdness. Having the “action” caught on phones and computers rather than a hand-held camera adds a bit of realism and relevance to the tale also, as constant life documentation is a common occurrence among American youth in the age of ready and accessible technology.
There are not mixed reviews of the last 10 minutes of this film, which are amazingly scary and intense. Even aside from the excitement of the final act, PA4 has a lot more scares and jumps than the earlier brethren. Some of them are cheap scares, some are not, but overall this one does a good job of moving the scare factor from the slow burn of the earlier installments that relied on the creep-factor, to a more ‘in your face’ and obvious attempt at causing fright. Yes, I actually yelled out loud in the crowded movie theater twice… not as dramatically as those fools in the advertisements, but enough to make a spectacle of myself.
Paranormal Activity is not a franchise that will go away any time soon. The foundation is set for the next installment, or installments… and the concept is not so played out that I am dreading that day. We shall see how the box office receipts treat this film in 2012, but if they are as high as expected then you can bank on the fact that we will be seeing yet another chapter in the home-filmed lives of ghosts, witches and demons in October 2013.