Paranormal Activity 4 – Film Review

Director(s): Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman

Starring: Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton and Matt Shively

Distributor: Paramount

It seems as though Paranormal Activity is taking the place of Saw as the franchise that just plain refuses to die. The once unique concept for the first film, released back in 2007, is now slowly being milked dry as the franchise gets dragged out and stretched thin. And while the third installment showed a little promise, Paranormal Activity 4 is very much relying on the same old tricks we’ve already seen before.

Instead of the security cameras from previous films, the majority of the found footage in PA4 comes from webcams that are dotted around the house, as well as a video camera carried around by the main character. This may be a subtle critique on contemporary adolescents being over-dependent on technology and social networking, but does that really seem like something this film might set out to do? Its aim, plain and simple, is to make the audience jump and scream as much as possible.

This probably sounds very familiar, but what will probably surprise you is the fact that PA4  is actually pretty watchable. This is due mostly to it’s two leads, female Alex (Newton) and male Alex (Shively). Considering the fact that these are tween actors, depicting contemporary tweens, you’d think a good performance was all but impossible. Teenage angst is rarely ever glamorized in film and usually takes itself far too seriously to be anything but annoying. But the directors have, blissfully, thrown all of these standardized issues of ‘oh-my-gawd-I-think-he-likes-me!‘ out the window and left us with two teens who think they know everything, just for us to smirk knowingly at.

It is a standard horror movie trope for there to be  a little chemistry between the lead characters, and this concept is handled surprisingly well here. The relationship is clearly one-sided, but is devoid of drama, adding a nice sense of authenticity. This is clearly just a high school crush and the directors acknowledge this by lending it zero closure. Male Alex’s ridiculous attempts to be funny and charming are actually the central highlight of the film and the main reason audiences will remain in their seats.

Which is a shame, because teenage relationships are probably the last thing people are hoping for when they purchase a ticket to a film that features invisible demons. The scares that we have come to expect from the franchise are as bland as they have ever been, with only one or two moments that come even close to real horror. Most of these arrive in only the last few minutes, which demands an awful lot of patience on the part of the audience. The comedy aspect of the film, while beneficial to the quieter portions, unfortunately serves to keep the tone far too light and airy when it comes to the scares. It is difficult to feel scared for characters being dragged around the house when we’ve seen them laughing about comments on Facebook only moments before.

The story of Kate progresses ever so slightly (obviously setting itself up for a further 5 or so films), revealing just enough plot details to justify a feature-length film. However, like the Saw movies, it’s getting more and more difficult to remember anything other than the occasional jumpy moments and the odd midnight stroll. Considering the dip in quality of these scares, this is not a good thing. It might be a good deal funnier than it’s predecessors, but Paranormal Activity 4 is just another example of a franchise running out of steam.

 Score: 2/5

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