Saturday, March 9, 2013

Paranormal Activity 4 (movie)

Starring: Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Aiden Lovekamp, Brady Allen, Stephen Dunham, Alexondra Lee, Katie Featherston

Some Spoilers Ahoy: I try to keep away from spoilers as best I can, but sometimes it's next to outright impossible. Sometimes you need to go in depth to pin down what is wrong with a film. This is one of those times. Proceed with caution.

How long have I been doing this blog? Three? Four years? I've lost count. Somehow, I've gone this long without reviewing a movie. I guess I just never had much to say until now.

In the last year or so, I'd watched all three of the preceding movies. Hollywood has a habit of missing what made the original film of a franchise work. There are exceptions, of course, but the word exception implies a far greater number in the opposite column.

Paranormal Activity was one of those exceptions. Could be that the first was so bare bones that there happened to be a ton of room to add things. Could be a happy accident. Who knows. All I can say is that, in my opinion, the third film ended up being the pinnacle of the series thus far.

Part of what made the third work the best for me was that it felt like it added the most. The second built on the first, but it was the third that seemed to imply something greater than just a demonic presence throwing furniture at a couple families for kicks. It set up a greater mythology surrounding the hauntings, asking more questions at the same time as it answered a few.

Perhaps that's where the fourth film goes wrong. It's not completely wretched, but it's probably the worst film in the franchise so far. It seems almost like its spinning its wheels, with few to no true additions to the mythology, a final scene that feels almost recycled from part of the climax of three and the entire film hinging on a plot twist or two that make zero sense. The only thing that's really new is the fact that we're following a girl named Alex and her family, all of whom are not in some way related to Katie. Spoilers after this point.

The first twist is one that, well, not much of a twist in that we expected all along. Mainly that the "Katie" character would show up in some fashion. She is the anchor of the series. It's the surrounding situation that makes no sense.

Katie is wanted for multiple murders - and clearly never bothered to change her appearance in any way - yet somehow she ends up with a house. Did she buy it? How the hell is that possible? Did, I don't know, someone from the cult buy it and she and the kid end up there because of who lived next door? She supposedly ends up in the hospital at the films start - which, since we're offered no other explanation, we end up taking the film at its word on - and I guess not a single person runs a background check or attempts to figure out who their patient is? It's not like she's on the other side of the country; we're in Nevada, the next state over from where she killed an asshole and her sisters family. For that matter, how the hell did she get the kid?

Ah, yeah, Robbie, the kid. That's the new thing here; Katie has what the family we follow assumes is her kid and we assume is Hunter. The entire movie hinges on the reveal that not only is Robbie not Hunter - the kid Katie abducted at the end of two - but Alex's brother Wyatt - who we only find out is adopted super late into the film - is actually Hunter. This makes no fucking sense. So, what, Demon Katie abducted the kid and then put him up for adoption? Part of the entire point of the mythology is that the demon wanted the first born son of Katies family line. It got him at the end of the second film, only to give him up? Where the hell did the other creepy kid, Robbie, come from? How did she get him? I'm pretty sure adoption services don't hand kids over to known murderers. The central reveal of the film has plot holes big enough to drive a mac truck through them.

So, the plot itself falls apart if you think about anything you see for more than two seconds. Does the film at least make up for it in other aspects? I personally never thought the films were frightening, but they were good at building tension until it boiled over. Others felt they were scary. I don't think anyone is going to walk away from the fourth film at all shaken.

On top of all that - and this might just be me having missed subtler "activity" - it feels like the whole knife movin', chair slidin', hair raisin' ghost antics are fewer and further between this go around.

To get back in the plus column, the cast isn't bad. Paranormal Activity on the whole has been pretty good at throwing actors at us that manage to feel like real people. Most of them aren't too pretty or too ugly or too thin. They're all rather good at acting like the goofy, often uncomfortable people we all can be in front of cameras. Though it's kind of tough to tell if that's good acting or because they're bad actors with "found footage" films.

Nothing is really resolved by the end and it's clear there will be a fifth film. Despite thinking they blew it with this one, I'm all for it; there are still questions I'd like expanded on from the previous films. I just hope that Paranormal Activity 4 is a bump in the road and that the franchise hasn't pulled a Saw*.

The Score: 4 out of 10

With low chills and virtually no thrills, Paranormal Activity 4 is, without question, a bad entry. I'm looking for five to turn things around. If it does, PA4 does so little of note it'll be easy to forget about. If it doesn't... well, it might be time to think about burying the franchise and leaving us to pretend there were no others beyond 3. Feel free to skip it unless you're really, really into the series.

* Pulling a Saw is basically having a great opening trilogy before dropping into the doldrums from the fourth film on. Also known as "Pulling a Star Wars"**.

** I hate myself for making this joke. One, because Star Wars jokes are beyond easy and cliche. Two, because I can find enjoyment in the prequels despite the fact that they are undeniably of lesser quality.

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