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 April 20, 2015
The Maine is currently on the road right now, touring in support of its latest album "American Candy," released just last month on March 31. Its current tour lands at The Rave on Wednesday, April 22. Before then, OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to chat with guitarist Jared Monaco about the new album, as well as his appreciation for The Rave and ... NSYNC.
Published April 18, 2015
Before the fairy tale riff "Peter and the Starcatcher" starts its run at the Milwaukee Rep on Tuesday, April 21, OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to chat with director Blake Robison about this particular Peter Pan retelling, making actors fly and why revisionist fairy tales are currently all the rage.
Published April 17, 2015
The Wisconsin State Fair's Main Stage lineup this summer features some of the biggest names the celebration has wrangled up in recent note. And the biggest of the bunch - or at least certainly the most unusual - is tightrope artist extraordinaire Nik Wallenda. OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to talk one-on-one with the stuntman about preparing for another life-threatening performance and being in a highwire family dynasty that shows no sign of stopping.
Published April 17, 2015
The Riverside's distant past will become the present as the legendary theater will play host to two screenings of the beloved 1942 classic "Casablanca" Friday and Saturday night. And to complete the blast to the past vibe of the event, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will perform Max Steiner's famous score alongside the movie.
Published April 15, 2015
Eugene Ionesco's 1950 play "The Bald Soprano" - the first the famed playwright ever wrote - is an absurdist classic. It's one of the most performed shows in France with a permanent repertory spot at Theatre de la Huchette since 1957 and a large number of interpretations. It's safe to say, however, that few to none of those interpretations featuring digital actors getting beamed in like "Star Trek" characters.
Published April 14, 2015
The Blue Man Group is famous for several things: funky instruments, those old Intel ads, Tobias Funke proclaiming that "I blue myself!" on "Arrested Development" and, of course, the whole being covered in blue paint thing. But one of the crucial elements of the Blue Man Group is that they don't talk. So imagine my surprise in getting to interview a Blue Man (at least the transcription would be easy).
Published April 14, 2015
Tomorrow night, after weeks of anticipation and online voting, the Milwaukee Awards for Neighborhood Development Innovation (MANDIs) will name the winners at a ceremony at the Potawatomi Event Center. However, there's still 24 hours left to learn about these community-impacting individuals and organizations and vote for the Wells Fargo People's Choice Award before the polls close and the numbers are tallied up.
Published April 13, 2015
For 100 minutes, writer-director David Robert Mitchell's breakout indie horror flick "It Follows" manages to maintain a continuous feeling of impending, skin-shivering dread. The smart, suspenseful result is the best kind of nightmare, one from which you want to wake up but are too eerily entranced to actually do anything about it.
Published April 11, 2015
Completing the franchise's evolution from street racing box office surprise to global dominating live-action cartoon, "Furious 7" is basically Hollywood's version of a turducken. It's a greasy, gaudy monstrosity, a monument to excess and absurdity - all pretty much cooked to lip-smacking satisfaction.
Published April 10, 2015
Getting locked in a room and having to solve puzzles and find clues in order to escape while an ominous clock ticks down is not usually a sign things are going well. Under most circumstances, it probably means you're living in a "Saw" film, and it's been nice knowing you. But that's exactly the experience I, along with four of my friends, signed up for recently at Escape MKE.