Strangely enough, the Paranormal Activity series marches on like some sort of fan-requested underground hit. The franchise’s fourth picture hit theatres in October of 2012, with campaigns to see it still emerging from the same sort of “Want It” basis as the first film in the franchise from 2007. Of course, by now this is an annual project with support from Paramount Pictures.
Nevertheless, the DIY ethic still remains in its most deceitful format. Once more, the footage is of the found variety and all-pervading cameras fill Paranormal Activity 4 with a Big Brother sensibility nobody seems to mind. Some of the ubiquity makes sense in this narcissistic age, but most of the logic is utter hooey.
The film opens by informing us of past events in the series, including the fact that Katie (Katie Featherstone) killed her sister and took her kid. Their whereabouts are apparently unknown. Fast-forward to 2011. A lass named Alex (Kathryn Newton) and her best friend Ben (Matt Shively) hang out in her affluent home in Nevada, insistently and curiously filming everything they do and say.
One night, Alex discovers the neighbour boy Robbie (Brady Allen) getting congenial with her little brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp). The kid’s mom is sick, which means Alex’s well-heeled clan takes him in. That’s when the weird stuff starts happening. Through a chain of always-on laptop cameras, iPhones and video game system hardware, the weird stuff is recorded.
There is some sort of batty and timeworn plot about a demon requiring a child and Katie returning to raise hell, but the Paranormal Activity 4 recipe isn’t so much about intrigue as it is about gimmick. The ubiquity of the footage is continually undone by the fact that characters refuse to observe it or otherwise perform arbitrarily just to keep action in the shot.
There are many, many examples of this type of absurdity. There is no known reason to record at least half of the film’s conversations. We are a long way from the mostly logical set-up of the camera in Oren Peli’s tidy original, although the cameras in this flick make slightly more sense than they do in the third installment.
Paranormal Activity 4 comes built by committee and it shows. The directors are Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, while at least three writers had their fingers in this soft, sticky dough. It’s hard to imagine anyone actually editing this thing, what with innumerable useless scenes hanging around like an unsolicited, exasperating teen.
One example: Joost and Schulman seem to have no problem having Alex enter her bedroom and walk into her closet, but they swift-edit to duck the onerous chore of her emerging from the closet again. Following this, we get to watch her text on her bed (seeing only her legs) for almost a minute. Apparently we couldn’t watch her walk out of the closet, but we can endure texting without purpose.
These sorts of editorial choices are all over the place in Paranormal Activity 4 and the jump edits pile up as the film carries out its dreadful business. There are many other difficulties, from the baffling ineffectiveness of the footage when it comes to demonstrating exactly what happened to the assertion that launching a character sideways into the air is terrifying in some way.
By now, we know there’s going to be another movie in this series. And we also know there will be a Latin version, presumably to make up for the way the maid was treated in Paranormal Activity 2. Perhaps there will be a Taco Bell tie-in, complete with gorditas and cheap curios for the kids. As for this entry, it’s about as close to real horror as a chalupa is to Mexican food – and just as gassy.