Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)

I might as well come right out and lay all my cards out on the table from the start: I'm a fan of the Paranormal Activity movies. Yeah, the positive reviews I've given each chapter so far might be proof enough of that. But I'll admit that every Halloween, I await with baited breath each new entry into the "found footage" saga that killed the Saw franchise.

Perhaps it was only a matter of time before a Paranormal Activity movie left me feeling disappointed. And that time is unfortunately now, because Paranormal Activity 4 was a tremendous letdown. The movie is almost like a parody of the franchise, or the big-budget studio equivalent of something The Asylum would do. And I hate saying that too, because I'm genuinely a fan of these movies. But if this one is any indication, them the franchise has finally run out of gas.

Instead of following in the footsteps of the other sequels, this one is a legit sequel instead of a prequel. It picks up five years after the first two, taking us to the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, Nevada. We're quickly introduced to Alex Nelson (Kathryn Newton), a plucky 15-year-old girl who seemingly has everything going for her. Things start getting a little odd for her, however, when her parents agree to look after their neighbor's son ― an odd little boy named Robbie (Brady Allen) ― for a few days while Robbie's mother deals with a medical emergency.

While Robbie quickly makes friends with Alex's little brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp), Alex begins noticing strange disturbances around the house at night. She enlists her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively) with the task of installing hidden webcams in different parts of the house, hoping to catch some evidence of these weird happenings. But over the course of the next month, it becomes apparent that not only has something supernatural moved into the Nelson home, but it seems fixated on Robbie and Wyatt.

I wanted to like Paranormal Activity 4. I really did. I wanted to walk out of that theater singing its praises, to write this review and tell you how awesome it is. But the movie's not awesome. It's not even good. Truth be told, the movie is just plain bad. I'd heard a lot of negative things about it beforehand, but I was shocked by just how little effort was put into it. Could anyone involved with this thing be bothered to care? Because it sure as hell didn't look like it if they did!

The brains behind this steaming pile are Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the filmmaking duo that had previously directed Paranormal Activity 3. But while I thought their work on that particular movie was great, their work here is surprisingly disappointing. It's like the producers hired two completely different people that coincidentally had the same names. There's no suspense to be had, no tension or even scares. Long stretches of the movie pass by where nothing happens. And that's really the movie's worst crime: it's boring.

Joost and Schulman at least try for some of the genre's stereotypical cheap jump scares. But not only are they not scary (more of a startle than a scare), but they're really cheap. They actually try to scare us by using scene transitions and bad editing! A character will walk into a closet for a few seconds, and BOOM! She's suddenly back in the center of the room. Some people sit on one side of the kitchen, and BANG! The refrigerator door is suddenly in our faces while someone rummages around for a snack. It's less-than-amateur horror filmmaking, the kind of crap that makes it seem like Joost and Schulman wanted to parody genre tropes and clich├ęs but were too lazy to care.

The script also suffers from an almost offensive level of stupidity. Written by Christopher Landon (himself a veteran of the Paranormal Activity franchise, having written the second and third movies), the script is riddled with plot holes and questionable choices by its characters. Take, for example, the fact that nobody can be bothered to actually watch the footage that's being recorded. The cameras even being there at all are only acknowledged a handful of times, and watching them is only referenced twice near the beginning and once at the end. That's it. If I suspected I lived in a haunted house and set up a bunch of cameras in my house to prove it, I'd be glued to the screen watching the footage all the time.

They'd even captured two specific instances of the ghost proactively messing with Alex, during one of which she was trapped in the garage and almost killed. But is it ever referenced? Not once. Alex doesn't even try to showing it to her parents to defend herself when they confront her about why she felt compelled to crash the car through the garage door. Why even record all this footage at all if you're not going to bother watching or even referencing it? You might as well just have made a regular movie instead of using the "found footage" technique.

It doesn't help that Landon doesn't add anything at all to the mysterious mythology of the franchise. That weird scene after the credits makes no sense beyond being a blatant setup for a fifth movie, and the movie's twist regarding what happened to baby Hunter after the end of the second movie only raises a million more questions. I don't want to spoil it, but I will point out that the twist makes even less sense than the post-credits sequence. It's a confusing turn of events that made me feel like somebody edited out any sort of explanations the movie might have had. We don't know anything more about the mythology than we did at the end of the third movie, and it makes the twist come off as being there for the sake of throwing off the audience and giving them something to do in a future sequel.

At least this movie has some decent acting going for it. I thought Matt Shively provided some funny moments, basically playing a younger, less-douchey version of Micah from the first movie. He's outshined, however, by two other members of the cast. One is Brady Allen, whose turn as the weird neighbor kid is surprisingly good. Allen is creepy and off-putting, bringing a very subtle air of menace to the character. He's quite convincing, and I totally bought what he was bringing to the table.

But the real star of the show is Kathryn Newton. I've never seen her in any other movies, but I was impressed by how well Newton handled herself here. She's absolutely fantastic and had me convinced from the start. I totally bought that she was going through all this. And while the character has the occasional dumb moments (why not show the footage to anyone?), Newton plays the role with intelligence and aplomb. It's just a shame that the movie isn't as good as she is.

I'm still in shock over how much of a letdown this movie was. Remember how I thought V/H/S was just okay? It's a million miles ahead of Paranormal Activity 4. It's like they couldn't come up with anything but were stuck meeting a release date, so they slapped this thing together at the last minute. The movie will make a bunch of money and a fifth Paranormal Activity is probably a safe bet. But that doesn't stop the fourth one from getting my hopes up and then dashing them away. At least the first three are still pretty good, right?

Final Rating:

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