Director: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Runtime: 88 minutes
Allow me to evoke the great Tom Petty once more: the waiting is the hardest part. The Paranormal Activity “brand”– because at this point they aren’t movies, so much as products — is all about waiting; waiting for that thing off frame or in the very rear of the “z” axis to move and go bump.
This time around for Paranormal Activity 4, we are given two proxies: the 15-year old neighbor of the family in the second film, Alex (Kathryn Newton) and her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively). In chronological order, the fourth takes place in 2011, five years after Paranormal Activity 2 – in which this story connects the threads of that film.
With Katie Featherston of the first film abducting a child in the second film, the fourth opens with a recap of these events. Something happens and Robbie (Brady Allen) is taken in by Alex’s family. And thus crazy things occur involving stuff going bump in the night, until the events grow get weirder and weirder. You know the drill — ou’ve seen this movie three times before.
Unfortunately, this time around it does not work. Though Alex and Ben are nice all-American kids, who I imagine are the exact target audience for this film, their relationship doesn’t develop into anything that deep, at least not as interestingly as the relationships in these filmmakers’ (Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman) first feature, the chilling Catfish. They are tech savvy; Ben records their FaceTime chats, including instances where Alex is sleeping (and creepy things happen). Another neat technical moment is Ben’s use of the night-vision feature on whatever camera he has. Everybody loves their gadgets, but no real comment is made on this, as in other found footage films (King Kelly, which opens later this year, comes to mind).
The parents (Stephen Dunham and Alexondra Lee) are also slightly better developed here, having a few nice moments, but the film never pauses for additional character development that would provide greatly needed emotional investment. I suppose we are just supposed to identify with these folks because they look normal suburban American family.
Perhaps the problem in continuing this franchise is that these films still retain the low-budget aesthetic and closed nature of the first film, legendary for its $15,000 budget. The rhythm is far too familiar to be off-putting, resulting in a franchise that shows little ambition in its development. A contained thriller is one thing, but there are only so many items that can fall down and go boom and it seems that every October the same things fall down and go boom. Sinister is far smarter, more subtle and original and thus scarier — and its likely playing in the same multiplex.
Paranormal Activity 4 is in theaters everywhere.
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