After three years of things going bump in the night, it’s no secret that the marketing for this year’s annual Paranormal Activityfelt a bit…off. Following the revelation that footage displayed in commercials may not show up in the final product, the missed connection to the series so far and the mixed reviews surfacing from the festival circuit have led to a lukewarm reception from plenty. Nevertheless, Katie is back with Toby to spook up a few scares just in time for Halloween. But with perhaps the largest negative reaction a sequel of the series has receive so far, does Paranormal Activity 4overcome the bad mojo or is it truly the first sign of the franchise finally showing its age?
Three’s a trilogy. Four’s a disappointment. While I consider myself a huge fan of the franchise, Paranormal Activity 4 is really the worst installment the series has offered yet. Which is a shame given the fact that the latest sequel gives us perhaps the greatest character to tangle with Katie and Toby yet. Even a last minute dash of adrenaline couldn’t liven things up and couldn’t save a feature that gives us almost nothing to change up what we’ve already seen before.
Clocking in at an hour and a half, Paranormal Activity 4 really has a world wide open. This is the first true sequel of the series yet after two prequels packed full of mythology that explain the origins of Katie and the demon that ended up striking down both Micah and her sister. Fast forwarding five years after the events of the first and second film, this is also the farthest point in time we find ourselves in the series thus far.
And yet despite any type of technological advances, this is the first entry that fails to really reinvent anything in the franchise or develop the overarching elements in any meaningful way. While the second film had an entire mess of camera and the third turning back to the clock to cause some incredibly genius uses of old fashioned tapes (such as the rotating fan cam), this one really just finds a way to blend multiple computers and use each one as inexpensive solutions. Though the tracking dots of the Kinect is fantastically fresh, it gets repetitive after the longest time and is just a fancy type of night vision that is only used for a few shocks.
As for the mythology, what the fourth installment really does is attempt to use the knowledge we’ve obtained so far and actually put it in motion with the resurgence of Katie and Hunter. Though both’s identities remain secret until the film actually gets going, their returns really aren’t too much of a surprise thanks to trailers and commercials heavily hinting their involvement. For fans in need of more Katie Featherston, the best news is that she receives the most screen time she’s ever received after her time in the first outing. The bad? She really has no use other than to snap a few necks and raise more questions. We’re still uncertain of her demonic involvement with Toby and how exactly she’s controlled, but those looking for answers will be let down as we beat around the bush again.
But if you’re looking for any big time advances in the mythology, you’re also out of luck in that department as well. Though the second very much pulled back the curtain on the Rey clan and the third had the major plot element of The Witches’ Coven, we only get one small development in terms of the Coven as thanks to the Internet some more information have been expanded upon. We never get to see the full extent of said info come to realization and really any try of a major earth-shattering conclusion is lost.
Seriously: the ending this time around is also the worst of the franchise.
Listen, most have come to accept that though the films start off slow every Paranormal Activity has a good 20 minute stretch that perfectly makes the experience of building up towards the actual event worthwhile. Here, we get perhaps the dullest stretch of scares yet that is matched with a good amount of laughs but once things start to finally heat up, it’s all over in a matter of five minutes. We get one jaw dropping and almost unexplainable shot at the very end before we meet an abrupt cut-off with no information whatsoever concerning “the whereabouts of [insert victim here]“.
And if that wasn’t enough, the film also decides to take some iconic horror movie images and take their own twist in certain respects here. There are some nods to The Exorcist, The Shining and others that you’ll love to point out while it doesn’t necessarily feels like anything too refreshing. Just more of the same old schtick but at least with a palette refined enough to attempt such a stunt.
Perhaps that’s why Paranormal Activity 4 feels just so damn disappointing. Not only does it fail to bring anything new to the table at all, it feels like what ultimately could be the pay off treatment is instead met with a quick ending that just isn’t satisfying enough. While there are some decent scares, it’s this year where the formula ultimately feels like its running on fumes. In previous years, we were able to justify this with smart uses of the camera and the bringing of something unique to the franchise thanks to a new pair of hands tackling the sequels. But with the first repeat performance in the series’ history as Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost return, gone are there thoughts of reinventing anything and simply trying to connect the pieces of the puzzle together.
But really during the beat of the film, none of this quite sinks in due to not only a constant asking of questions but perhaps the sole silver lining of this year’s annual effort: Matt Shively. If you were to tell me beforehand that a Nickelodeon star would actually be one of the most enjoyable parts of the PA experience ever created, I would have considered you out of your damn mind. But Shively’s Ben is immensely entertaining and steals scenes whenever he’s on screen. Though he’s a typical somewhat-pervy teenager, he delivers some great lines, laughs and even perfectly matches the exact reactions of the audience at times. With no filter, he’s free to spew any amount of expletives he sees fit and considering the stiff supporting characters that the series has dished out so far, Shively is easily the best of the franchise’s run thus far.
Meanwhile, it’s newcomer Kathryn Newton that has the largest task of the feature as the new central character and for the most part she plays exactly who you’d expect: a cute innocent teenager that actually supplies a possible love interest story for the first time of the series. Nothing happens, of course, thanks to Toby being a major cockblock. But mostly she holds everything together; not exactly impressive, but it could have been a hell of a lot worse.
If anything, I would hope that the step forward would have brought one of the few survivors of past happenings back into the picture: Ali (Molly Ephraim, Paranormal Activity 2). And with a journey to the teenage world, you would think there could be some kind of tie after five long years to have Ali back and looking for blood after the deaths of both her mother and step-father. Now that Hunter has been brought back with some importance, perhaps this entire outing was nothing more than a precursor of what’s to come and next year’s sequel will hopefully expand upon the introduction into modern day.
Overall, Paranormal Activity 4 is certainly the first major red flag of the series to date. Though some elements felt a bit old last year, this year’s sequel brings to clear light the realization that the franchise may be starting to run on fumes. Whether or not this has broken the series for years to come will certainly remain a major inspection point by fans and critics alike, but for the meantime I just hope it’s a bump in the road. With a sequel and spin-off already set for 2013, Paramount easily needs to change some things up or else the demons alive with the glory of possession may overstay their welcome.