When autumn comes out in full force you can bet on a few sure things: the leaves will change color and fall, the weather will become more brisk, Starbucks will bring out the Pumpkin Spice Lattes and there will be another entry in the Paranormal Activity series. By now the central gimmick of these movies has become so familiar that the franchise has fallen into the "if you've seen one you've seen them all" realm. I’m not surprised that there was a major lack of inventiveness in Paranormal Activity 4 but I am disappointed that it didn’t get my heart racing more than it should have. There are a couple of moments – maybe literally amounting to no more than a minute – that are creepy in a “that was messed up” kind of way but aside from that it’s the same old story. It’s just told less effectively this time.
I’m not going to go too much into the plot because we all know by now that a family experiences strange phenomenon in their house and set up cameras to record the scary goings on etc., etc., but I will say that the characters and events do tie in to the mythology of the franchise. This time the story is told through the use of laptop webcams that are set up to record everything that happens all through the night. Also the Xbox Kinect shows up more than you would expect; if you hate product placement you’ll puke at the amount of Apple, Xbox and Pepsi you’ll see.
The unfortunate beings haunted this time are a teenage girl named Alex, her boyfriend, her parents and her younger brother. Some mysterious new neighbors move into town, things start to get strange and there are plenty of bumps in the night and doors slowly opening on their own. The characters aren’t interesting, the young child actors are bad, and the frights aren’t nearly loud or big enough to make you react strongly. The first couple of Paranormal Activity movies were fun in a creepy “Where’s Waldo” kind of way – your eyes would dart around the screen looking for a sign of something out of the ordinary happening and the anticipation became as scary as the actual payoff - but the formula hasn’t changed and the thrill has become stale. I know what’s up the filmmakers’ sleeves and I’m bored by it.
This is the fourth year in a row that I’ve gone to the theater on opening night and taken in each movie with a sold out crowd. I can say with certainty that this entry managed to elicit far fewer reactions from the audience than the previous movies did. I don’t know why I bother, I checked out of the Saw series after the fourth installment and I think it’s time I retire from this series as well. These movies are produced for next to nothing and rake in the cash so you can be sure to see more of the same next year. Maybe it’s just me or maybe it’s just that it’s getting harder and harder to truly frighten crowds that have seen it all by now. I’d really love to be surprised and have my faith in the franchise renewed again at some point but I really don’t think that’s likely to happen. What once started as a unique and genuinely freaky Halloween treat has unfortunately become another tired and sad old trick.
Paranormal Activity 4 - Official Trailer (2012) [HD]