In 2009, "Paranormal Activity" combined a miniscule budget and a clever release tactic to bring the found-footage sub-genre to the scariest place possible: home. "Paranormal Activity 2" surprisingly proved that sequels – much less horror movie sequels – could almost equal their predecessors. Last year's third entry was the weakest of the bunch but did produce the pivoting 'fan-cam.'
So, what new element does "Paranormal Activity 4" introduce to the series?
Boredom. Oh, and the Microsoft Kinect, because what better symbol for a useless franchise addition than a useless video game console addition.
After making a quick pit stop in the '80s in the last movie, "Paranormal Activity 4" jumps back to the present to follow chirpy suburban teen Alex (Kathryn Newton). Despite some bickering parents (Alexondra Lee and the late Stephen Dunham), life is pretty normal for Alex. Things take a hard turn toward the paranormal when Katie from the first film and the kidnapped baby from part two – now a toddler named Robbie – move in across the street.
If you've seen the other three movies, you know pretty much how this new installment is going to play out. It all starts out of innocent – a swinging chandelier here, a mysterious shadow there – until the threats become more severe, leading to an epic climax involving invisible beings throwing people around like ragdolls and people making snarling demon faces toward a shaky camera.
Admittedly, there are a few decent scares in "Paranormal Activity 4," many of which involving the Kinect. The motion capture technology is the most gimmicky thing to hit the series yet, but returning directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman do some cleverly creepy things with the device's thousands of small lights. Plus, it's just a striking image in a found-footage genre that normally doesn't have much to provide visually.
However, these clever scares are few and far between. For the most part, "Paranormal Activity 4" keeps repeating the same tactics and setups. A character blocks the camera and then something appears in the background. A door creaks open. The droning bass starts pounding on the speakers. It may have been effective at one time, but after four movies, it's hard to convince the audience they still have something new to fear – especially since we know nothing serious will happen until the last five or 10 minutes.
Some of the scares reek of desperation as well. A sequence involving a Big Wheel is a clear nod to "The Shining," save without any of the horror that made Kubrick's film a classic. Plus, writer Christopher Landon unfortunately turns the ghoulish menace into a typical PG-13 shadowy figure, swooping past the camera and creating the cheapest of cheap jump scares.
Landon's creative strain isn't limited to the spooky moments. The first film excelled thanks to its simple story told well. Now, the mythology – including the third movie's silly cult addition – is excessively complicated, forcing the audience to wonder what is the point of all of this. We're told the ghost needs to kill a virgin, but he focuses most of his attention on Alex's little brother, Wyatt. What is this ghoul's seemingly elaborate plan, besides giving all of suburbia a case of demon face? Once you've introduced a greater logic or goal to the picture, the audience expects some consistency.
The only thing that's consistent in "Paranormal Activity 4" is the characters' stupidity. The series hasn't exactly featured a cast of Mensa members in the past, but the fourth installment stretches one's tolerance for doltishness. Despite knives falling from the ceiling and obvious warning signs, Alex, nor her parents, do anything. I take that back: Alex keeps recording everything on her laptop, pushing the franchise's premise to the point of implausibility, and her parents bust out the sleeping pills. Jeez, guys, are you working for the ghost?
The depressing part about "Paranormal Activity 4" is that it's probably still the best horror movie I've seen this year (I haven't seen "Sinister" yet). It can build some mild tension, and if you liked the last three films, this one offers a lot of the same. But its rank as the best of the year should be taken as a statement about the sad status of the horror genre rather than a comment about the quality of this tired – hopefully final – installment.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published Aug. 2, 2015
Jake Gyllenhaal's impressive physical transformation from scrawny media parasite in "Nightcrawler" to pro boxer in "Southpaw" has snagged most of the movie's pre-release hubbub - partly because, well, there's not all that much to say about the cliche-ridden, predictable film housing that handsome new physique.
Published Aug. 1, 2015
Like a real-life version of the 2010 Greek film "Dogtooth," six boys and their little sister weren't allowed to leave their drab New York City apartment for almost all of their young lives thanks to their parents' rules. First-time director Crystal Moselle certainly stumbles onto a fascinating story for her doc "The Wolfpack," and she doesn't waste it either, absorbing the viewer into a bizarre and often unsettling psychological experiment playing out right in reality.
Published July 24, 2015
At first glance, Ellington Ratliff may seem like the odd man in the pop rock band R5. He's the only one who's not a member of the Lynch family. He's the only one with a first name that doesn't begin with R (Riker, Rocky, Ross and Rydel make up the rest), and he's the only bandmate not born and raised in Colorado. Instead, Ratliff was born out in Los Angeles and split time in Wisconsin, making the band's Riverside gig Friday night a return of sorts.
Published July 23, 2015
If the last two days have proven anything, it's that Milwaukee will freaking lose their mind over the mere idea of a lion. At least, local movie fans Stephen Milek and Christopher Kai House certainly hope that is the case, as the two film buffs attempt to bring the notoriously insane 1981 thriller/borderline snuff film "Roar" to town.
Published July 22, 2015
Bookended by AJ Bombers and Water Street Brewery, Water Street is famous for three Bs: bars, burgers and bros. The tightly packed combination of those things has made the area a popular nighttime hot spot. Yet amongst all of the bars and clubs is something unexpected: A. Werner Silversmith, a buried treasure - quite literally considering its glass cases and shelves containing shimmering, beautifully repaired silver pieces - hiding in plain sight.
Published July 20, 2015
Brooklyn-based indie band Lazyeyes guitarist and singer Jason Abrishami has never been to Milwaukee - let alone any part of the Midwest really. He admits he hasn't even heard that much about the Cream City, but he'll learn about the city firsthand Wednesday night when the band and its shoegaze-laced dream rock makes its maiden trip to the city via a gig at The Mad Planet.
Published July 19, 2015
Tarsem Singh is a man who spent about four years and much of his own money traveling the globe's most outrageously beautiful locales in order to make his magnum opus "The Fall." So how'd he end up standing behind the camera of "Self/Less," an utterly anonymous and impact-free immortality action-thriller that - much like the fresh if not quite new bodies being peddled in the film - seems "alive only in the most basic sense"?
Published July 18, 2015
What if? It's two simple words, not even adding up 10 letters, but that seemingly innocent question has likely haunted every single person that's walked this planet at some point or another. And it's a question that fascinates Milwaukee native Cynthia Swanson, so much so that she made that idea the cornerstone for her debut novel, "The Bookseller."
Published July 17, 2015
Every band has at least a small group of devoted fans cheering it on and supporting it on its way to the spotlight. The retro "nu-wop" family band The Bronx Wanderers, coming to Festa Italiana this weekend, is no different - except some of those devoted fans just happen to be entertainment icons from their hometown neighborhood, including Dion DiMucci, Tony Orlando and Oscar-nominated actors Chazz Palminteri and Danny Aiello.
Published July 15, 2015
When Festa Italiana starts up this Friday at Henry Maier Festival Park, many will flock down to the lakefront to gulp down some real authentic Italian food and wine. Yet some of the most revered tastes of Italian culture coming to town this weekend are wholly inedible: the lovingly crafted and almost identical replicas of the country's most famous sites - this year including a 50-foot duplicate of the iconic Trevi Fountain.