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Paranormal Activity 4

Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Cast: Kathryn Newton, Katie Featherston, Matt Shively, Alexondra Lee, Stephen Dunham, Brady Allen, Aiden Lovekamp

(Room 101; US DVD: 29 Jan 2012)

Many may have given up on the Paranormal Activity franchise after the disappointing second and third entries, but producers of the mega-low budget spookfests are back with one more. Why? Despite the steady decline in quality from film to film (and they didn’t start from a very high point), they’re still raking in incredible amounts of money. Their cost to profit ratio is one of the best ever, so there’s really no reason to quit making them.

There are, however, plenty of reasons for audiences to stop watching.

Namely, they’re no longer even attempting to progress the mysteries of whatever ghost, demon, or specter has been haunting these unlucky suburban families. The fourth entry focuses on Alex, a high school-aged girl living in another generic house in suburbia with her “normal” family. Mom and Dad are having some problems, so Alex spends a lot of time talking to her boyfriend Ben via video chat.

This production aspect has always been fairly well thought out, if not executed, by the Paranormal team. In the first film, the husband—a filmmaker if I remember correctly—purchased a new camera and wanted to play around with it. You know, all the time. The second film featured a concerned family who installed security cameras. Granted, it’s a predictable next step, but also an effective one. The third film jumped back in time a bit, using VHS tapes and a fascination with the “new technology” as an excuse to record the necessary footage.

Now, we’re back to present day. Halloween 2011, to be exact, and Ben is eager to record his crush’s every movement via cell phone and computer cameras. Considering this generation’s compulsive need to chronicle every waking (and now sleeping) moment of their lives, it’s not a stretch to believe a 15-year-old kid would record videos of the girl he desperately wants to date.

Another clever visual trick comes from an unexpected source—an Xbox360 Kinect. Apparently if you turn off the lights in a room and look at it through an infrared lens, you’ll see all of the green dots shot out by the machine to track people’s motion. Yeah, it’s product placement at it’s most brazen, but it also provides the spookiest images in the movie.  It’s utilized early and often, but you don’t see the outline of an otherworldly being every time. The shots are like an autostereogram you have to look at long enough to find the hidden image. I don’t even know if I saw everything I was supposed to—there could be ghosts in every shot, and I just missed them.

These technical implementations help to keep the gimmicky-feeling at bay. If only there was something worth focusing on other than how the movie was made for under $5. Depending on whether you watch the R-rated or unrated version, Paranormal Activity 4 is 87 or 96 minutes of almost identical shots repeated over and over again with little to nothing happening in each of them.

There’s a steady progression of frights—all of which involve something moving suddenly or someone jumping at the camera—but the jolts are all fairly tepid and soon become tedious. Once you hit the 60-minute mark and there’s not a single memorable scare, you know this flick is a waste of time.

Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman—the directors behind the faux-documentary Catfish as well as Paranormal Activity 3—decided early on this wasn’t going to progress the overall story much. After all, it’s the same attitude they took with the last one. This is just another way to string the audience along, and squeeze out a few more dollars from a franchise I’m guessing has no ending whatsoever. Don’t get me wrong—there will be a final Paranormal Activity. It may be No. 6, 7, or 14, but I doubt it will make much sense no matter the number.

Don’t look for any more answers on the tantalizingly titled The Recovered Files, the only bonus feature on the Blu-ray. It’s just a bunch of deleted scenes. The best you can say about the 30 minutes of extra footage is that it’s just as entertaining as the movie. Sadly, that doesn’t amount to much when the main problem with your horror movie is that it’s incredibly boring.

I know I’ve harped on this before, but the only way to get producers to listen to the wants of a demanding audience is at the box office. The fourth entry showed progress. The opening weekend and total gross were both almost cut in half. Here’s hoping they heard us in the only way they know how to listen. We’ll find out in October when Paranormal Activity 5 lands in a theater near you.


Extras rating:

Ben Travers is an awards season analyst and prognosticator with a devout interest in all things film & TV. Mr. Travers lives in Los Angeles as an experienced writer and filmmaker with an extensive portfolio of coverage, including thorough reporting on the Academy Awards, weekly box office reports, and more reviews written than will ever be read. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa with degrees in both journalism and cinema.

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