Friday, October 19, 2012

Paranormal Activity 4 (2012) - Movie Review

I think the real title for this movie should have been Paranormal Product Placement.  Then you could shorten it to PPP or P3.  When watching Paranormal Activity 4, I couldn't help but feel like I was watching an extended commercial for Microsoft Kinect.  Corona and Metro bottled water also make appearances.

The movie's prologue recalls the events at the end of PA2.  You see Katie (Katie Featherston) attacking her sister and stealing their son, Hunter.  It helps a little if you've seen the previous PA films, but ultimately it doesn't matter, as the movie makes less and less sense as it goes on.

We fast forward a few years, and are introduced to a new family.  The surprising thing is that you actually like this family, in particular Alex (Kathryn Newton) and her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively).  They actually have some pretty funny banter between them, and it the first time I've actually cared anything for the characters in a PA movie.  That's actually the highlight of the film, and I was surprised at the humor in it.

Anyway, an unknown woman and weird child live across the street.  The woman is revealed later, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out who it's going to be.  The weird child, Robbie (Brady Allen), likes to randomly wander into their yard.  One night, the mystery woman is rushed off to the hospital, and the family agrees to watch Robbie while she's away.  While strange, Robbie initially is still kind of endearing.  As you'd expect though, weird things begin to happen.  To track this, Ben helps Alex setup laptops all around the house to record everything.  This is basically the film's excuse to have multiple cameras, but it also felt like a huge plot hole to me.  First, these cameras seemed to be recording 24 x 7, and didn't seem to be triggered by any kind of motion detection.  Do these computers have infinite hard drive space to be recording as much as they are?  Then I wondered why nobody else in the house, like the parents, ever noticed an unused computer and bothered to turn it off or shut the screen?  How many laptops does a family need anyway?  The producers of the film would like to thank Apple for all of the free laptops and iPhones used in the making of Paranormal Activity 4.

Early on, they would go back and look at the footage and notice some of the weird things happening.  However, later in the film they conveniently don't do this when even weirder things happen.  If they had, there would have been good reason to get out of the house or contact the authorities.

How come a movie with 'Activity' in the title features very little actual activity.  Once again we are treated to a seemingly endless number of shots of empty rooms or people sleeping.  Can you stand all of this activity?  It irritates me that most of the scares come out of long stretches of silence or nothing happening being broken up by a noise or something jumping around the screen. This movie uses a book, a cat, a shadow, and several other things all used as cheap jump scares. It even tries to scare you with abrupt editing.  The longer the movie goes on, the more the scares are telegraphed.  Anytime you see an extended shot of a room, you know they are only showing it to you because something is going to happen soon, so you're looking for it.  When it happens, there's no impact.  I found it all to be very lazy.

Whatever this thing is that's terrorizing them is kind of a jerk that just likes to annoy or inconvenience people.  You see things like littered toys, a basketball bouncing down the stairs, and a chair moving on it's own.  One of the few times something freaky happens to Alex, they setup the scene by telling you she took a sleeping pill, so now you know she won't wake up for what's about to happen.  If she doesn't wake up, she has nothing to fear or freak out about, and also has no reason to watch the footage the next day.  It's pointlessly messing with someone.

The conclusion of the film, which is basically a recall to PA3, is very abrupt.  It's just a few minutes of more cheap scares taken in night vision.  Based on what was setup in the last film, they could have explored that more here, but didn't take the opportunity.  There's a point in the plot where something is revealed that made absolutely no sense to me.  There's just no setup to what they are doing.  It really feels like writers Chad Feehan and Christopher Landon are making this up as they go along, and then realized didn't have an ending yet, so they just said, "Screw it.  Let's just throw as much stuff as we can at them in the last few minutes."

This still has the same issue that other found footage films have.  When shit hits the fan, why are you still filming?  Wouldn't you run like a normal person or put the camera down?  If you're filming on an iPhone, why aren't you calling 911 instead?  Plus, since when does an iPhone have a night vision option?  Who puts together all this 'found footage' anyway?  The footage is pretty strong evidence against the people in it, so are the authorities looking for them?  Are they that hard to find after so many years?  Okay, here I go again looking for this stuff to make sense when it's clearly not meant to.  Silly me.

I already hear they are going to make yet another one of these movies, and I can't imagine what it would be about.  I suppose it doesn't matter though, as I'm sure they'll make it for dirt cheap and it will make a huge profit.  This is probably going to sound condescending, and I generally don't like to insult the audience that likes a particular film (except for Twilight fans), but sitting in the theater made me realize who this franchise's audience is: young teens that haven't watched a lot of horror. This stuff can only be scary to people that just don't have a lot of experience with the genre. There's nothing about the scares in this film that are creative or inventive.  It's just more of the same cheap jump scares and loud noises that have been done a million times before.  But hey, who am I tell people they can't have fun with this?  I just wish they wouldn't, so they'd stop making them.

The directors of Paranormal Activity 3 (Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman) are back to direct this, and I still can't figure out what they are directing.  It's the same shots repeated in a loop featuring mostly bad acting.  Plus, I can't believe boring this film got the longer it went on.  It's paced terribly, and I'm shocked to find this is only 95 minutes.  I thought it was at least two hours long.  I couldn't stop yawning.

Paranormal Activity 4 is another weak entry in the series featuring the same lame jump scares, lack of activity and nonsensical plot.  The only redeeming thing is that you actually like some of the characters this time around.  Overall, it's just boring and stupid.  I advise you to skip it.  Go see Sinister if you haven't seen it yet.  That deserves your money more than Paranormal Activity 4 does.

1 (out of 5) Death Stars


  1. The climax was the worst case of "why are you still filming?" ever. Like the third film, the footage from the first trailer never appeared in the final movie.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I noticed that too regarding the footage from the trailer. I don't mind that from a teaser sense, but it does seem like they are pulling a bit of a bait and switch.

  2. Really enjoyed your review, made me laugh!

    When I first watched the trailer and saw they were using a Kinect to film, I groaned. That's shameless!

    After reading your review I think I'll wait until this comes out on rental.

    1. Thanks, Ben! The Kinect is featured heavily throughout the film, and yes, it's one of the most shameless uses of product placement I can remember.

  3. Good review Erik. I didn't hate it as much as everybody else did, but it is coming to a point now where this series needs to do something with itself, or it's most likely going to be dead by the 6th movie.

    1. Thanks, Dan. The problem for me at this point is how the series has just become played out. They either need to wrap it up, or do something really unique with the next one.