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 â€“ much less horror movie sequels â€“ could almost equal their predecessors. Last year's third entry was the weakest of the bunch but did produce the pivoting 'fan-cam.'Â
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 â€“ now a toddler named Robbie â€“ 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 â€“ a swinging chandelier here, a mysterious shadow there â€“ 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 â€“ 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 â€“ including the third movie's silly cult addition â€“ 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 â€“ hopefully final â€“ 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 July 25, 2016
Comic-Con had a lot to reveal this past weekend, from Marvel and DC, to movies and television, "The Walking Dead" and Netflix's superhero shows, a new Blair Witch and some insanely vulgar food. Here's the important stuff to know.
Published July 24, 2016
Sequels are not why we love Pixar, why that name for many has become seemingly a genre of its own and a deeply trusted one at that. But, as "Finding Dory" proves, while sequels may not be what Pixar does best, they still do them better than most.
Published July 21, 2016
Boston and Styx may not be the first things that come to mind when you think of Italian culture and heritage. But what Bostyx lacks in Italian cred, they hope to make up for in rocking classic tunes at their Festa Italiana set this weekend.
Published July 20, 2016
2016 tragically claimed yet another entertainment giant Tuesday, as television and film writer-producer-director Garry Marshall passed away in Burbank, Calif., at the age of 81, from complications of pneumonia following a stroke.
Published July 19, 2016
Deadline Hollywood reported this morning that Netflix ordered another season of the now Emmy-nominated docu-series and that it is currently in production under the watch of returning executive producer/director tandem Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos.
Published July 14, 2016
Before he comes to The Pabst Theater on Monday night, we chatted with legendary film director John Carpenter about his new tour, his new music, his newfound critical appreciation and the new "Halloween" movie he'll help bring to life.
Published July 12, 2016
"The Secret Life of Pets" sounds so much like it was cribbed from Pixar's notes, it's hard to believe Pixar didn't make it first - until you replace "pets" with "toys" and realize they did. Considering the fluffy 90-minute result, though, you likely won't mind.
Published July 11, 2016
Did you have a good weekend? Yes? Well, Milwaukeean and Adele fan Kathleen Dohearty's was better, as she got to join the crooning pop star on stage for a duet of "Someone Like You" last night in Chicago.
Published July 10, 2016
Upon first glance, there wouldn't seem to be much common ground between Saturday night's co-headliners Weezer and Panic! At the Disco. And after Saturday night ... yeah, there wasn't much. But that doesn't mean they didn't put on a heck of a show.
Published July 9, 2016
From country to rock to blues to ... a Nick Jonas/The Weeknd mash-up (?), Elle King's Summerfest set was full of zigging when you expected it to zag. Yet through it all, with King leading the charge, it all worked and totally made sense.