I’ve been a big fan of the Paranormal Activity series up to this point. The first film was an incredible success story that you don’t get to hear too often these days: Oren Peli crafted the first film with a few friends in his own house, and after a few years of unsuccessfully trying to sell the finished product, Paramount would pick up the $15,000 picture which would gross nearly 200 million. The sequels would go on to mostly build on that success, and weave a clever tale of haunting that spanned the entirety of the first three films.
The first movie managed to feel like a breath of fresh air in the crowded horror genre. It would go on to launch the “found footage” craze that nearly every film seems to take on these days (other films used the style first of course, but many people seem to forget that fact). Paranormal Activity was a simple story of a haunted house (or so it would seem) and its living inhabitants, that would be told with an incredible amount of polish. Just as Jaws made moviegoers afraid to step into the ocean, Paranormal Activity made people afraid of their own homes. I personally know some folks who felt the need to sleep with their lights on for days after seeing the first film.
I was equally as impressed with Paranormal Activity 2. Instead of the forced perspective of the single camera first film, the sequel managed to get cameras all over the house and have it make sense. The plot managed to coherently span from long before the first film would have started, to just after it ended. It also managed to expand on the mythology introduced in Paranormal Activity in a way that felt completely natural, and arguably in a way that even improved the plot of the first film.
Paranormal Activity 3 would turn back the clock to 1988, and show us just how all the activity began. Again, this sequel expanded on the plot and mythology of the first two films, and made the series most powerful when thought of as a whole. It also revolved around children, which added at least a few levels to the creepiness of the picture.
This is where I feel like Paranormal Activity 4 takes its first misstep. The film opens with a quick recap of the end of the second film before jumping ahead 5 years (to 2011), and introducing us to a new, unrelated family. This immediately breaks a lot of the connection to the first few films. I don’t really know how it could be done differently, seeing as Kristi died and the end of the second movie, but it simply doesn’t work for me here. We’re introduced to a slew of new characters that really have nothing to do with the last ones, and we’re expected to care about them before shit starts to go down. The biggest problem with the film is just that: I don’t care. In all cases, Paranormal Activity 4 feels more like an uninspired spin-off than any sort of sequel.
The plot of this fourth film has also taken a turn for the worse. Katie (from the other movies) and her “son” Robbie live across the street from this new family. Katie (somehow with a new identity as you’d think the police would be after her) ends up being taken to the hospital, and as Robbie has no other family, is set to spend a few nights in this new house. As in the second film, our main character falls to the family’s teenage daughter. She happens to have an annoying-as-hell boyfriend who happens to record her sleeping via Skype (weird as hell, right?), when he sees something odd. The youngsters determine that they want eyes all around the house to check for any other weird happenings, before realizing that Robbie seems to be the source of them. Instead of security camera footage or old home movies, the feeds we’ll be looking at are those of all the many computers in the house. I’m afraid that I simply couldn’t suspend my disbelief here. The video feeds are way too high quality to be coming from these computer webcams, and magically these hard drives never seem to fill up despite these videos recording 24/7. There are also numerous scenes in the film where the computers are most definitely sleeping, as in you can audibly hear them waking up, and yet they’ve managed to keep recording the entire time.
The real star of Paranormal Activity 4 seems to be the fucking Microsoft Kinect system. Boyfriend Ben introduces early on that the Kinect shows cool looking tracking dots all over the room when viewed through a camera’s infrared mode. Somehow Ben’s hacking skills get the Kinect recording constant video too, and the film returns to this disco-looking room for a huge amount of the scares that it tries to throw at you. Lame as hell, and an almost laughably impossible situation. There’s even a scene that insinuates that the freaking kid was playing Kinect with the ghost…
For me, the only real saving grace in the film is its conclusion. The Paranormal Activity franchise always manages to do endings extremely well, and the fourth film is no exception. The ending was creepy as hell and definitely made me jump more than once. This also left me feeling slightly more positive when the credits began to roll, though that likely was just because the movie was over. It also doesn’t really leave much setup for another sequel as the other films have, so I really wonder where they’ll end up going with the franchise.
Again, I was a big fan of the series, and very impressed at the way the creators managed to weave the first three films together and have everything make sense. Paranormal Activity 4 forgoes all of that, and instead introduces a lame plot, with lame characters, and scares that by now we’ve seen multiple times (how many times can we be terrified at a slightly moving door).
Paranormal Activity 4 is by far the worst film in the series. Hopefully the inevitable fifth film can bring back the things that this one was lacking (nearly everything). In any case, I know I’ll be going into the next one with caution.
Paranormal Activity 4 scores an Kinect Ready 1.5/5.
In any case, let us know what you thought of the film if you end up seeing it!