Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Paranormal Activity 4 [ Movie Review ] ★★

The Pitch

I have never watched the first three Paranormal Activity movies. The idea of watching long still shots of surveillance video for sudden burst of jump scares just didn't appeal to me. It's like a bad mutation of the shaky cam genre. Plus I am a fan of the Saw franchise and was kinda pissed that the Paranormal Activity franchise replaced it as the king of Halloween box office in recent years.

But I was lucky enough to be picked by UIP for the Paranormal Activity - WANT IT contest. I am not sure why I took part in this contest in the first place. It's been a long time since I caught any movies that is really scary and I guess I crave for a real good scare.

I am also wondering what's with the longevity of this franchise? Why is it still doing so well after three installments? Just last week, Paranormal Activity 4 topped the US box office with $29 million (although last year this weekend, Paranormal Activity 3 opened with $52.6 million) while outside of America, Box Office Mojo is reporting an average increase of 11% over it's predecessor. What the secret behind it's success? Is it really that scary that it's bringing enough audience back to make such an impressive debut on the box office?

Money aside, I am definitely looking forward to be spooked like the New Zealand test audience in this video.

For those who had missed the first three movies and don't have the time to rent them before the 4th movie (like me), here a history recap of what happened before this 4th installment of the Paranormal Activity movie.

The Plot

This sequel picks up from the end of the 2nd Paranormal Activity. Katie and Hunter were seen last seen walking about from the Rey's household. The year was 2006 and they went missing eversince.

Flash forward to 2011 and a new suburb. The focus is on the Nelson family, a somewhat normal family living in a suburb. Holly (Alexondra Lee) and Doug (Stephen Dunham) are having some marital problems but are still keep up with the façade that everything is all right. Their 15 years old daughter Alex (Kathryn Newton) has a boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively) who frequently visit their household and their youngest son Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp) who is a well manner, adorable kid.
The normalcy of their lives is only punctuated by the unexpected visitation by Robbie (Brady Allen), a young moody kid from across the street. When Robbie's mom was admitted to the hospital, Holly agreed to look after him for a few days. But like many horror movies, there is something not right about this new guest. Through the constant video recording of their daily lives, Alex and Ben caught some footage that prove that there might be something sinister that is plaughing this new guest.

But it was only when they found out that an accidental overnight webcam chat recording had caught Robbie entering Alex's room late at night to sleep next to her, they decide to do a surveillance setup in the house with laptops. The following days, they captured strange paranormal activities happening in the household and Robbie has been influencing Wyatt to do some pretty abnormal stuff.

What's the link between Katie, Hunter, Robbie and the Nelson family? Why does all other (paranormal) activities had lead to this (movie) (as stated by the movie tagline)?  
The Perspective

Personally, Paranormal Activity 4 was quite a dreadful event to sit through. Dreadful in two ways. It was really dreadful to sit through all those long boring still shots with very little substantial events happening. The terrible editing and nonexistence cinematography made me want to leave the cinema before the end of the movie.

The other dreadfulness is derived from how we the viewers were "forced" to sit through the movie to wait for the inevitable "loud jump scares". That dreadfulness is actually the strength of this movie and I am guessing that's why the whole franchise is making so much money. There's basically nothingness for a period of time and a sudden loud boom to freak the audience out. It's simple to make and it's easy to figure when the next "loud jump scares" will be happening but it's difficult to not get spooked by it.

But is that good horror?

I really don't think so. First of all, it gets repetitive and after a while, it became a sensory numbing experience. The first few "loud jump scares" got me but after that, it's really hard to be spook by those cheap thrills or even care for the characters that are going through a horrible paranormal experience.

Secondly, was it even that scary in the first place? It's easy to get startled by sudden assault of loud noise, abnormal images or "out of nowhere" type of surprises. But is that really scary? Would all these jump scares be "scary" if one would to rewatch this movie?

Last but not least, the movie is filled with build up for these "loud jump scares" that it really have nothing else to work on. The main thread that binds these four Paranormal Activity movies became a sideshow to the "loud jump scares". I thought that's really sad.

Loud jump scares aside, the plotting for this movie felt very restrained. It felt like the filmmakers had very little to build on and a sequel (yes Paranormal Activity 5 has already gotten the green-light for a release in October 2013) to plan for. Paranormal Activity 4 which might be functioning as a bridge to the fifth installment, seems to have even lesser to say than the first three movies. The Nelson family inclusion simply felt unnecessary and a very obvious detour from the first three movies.

It also asked more questions than actually answering any of those questions that the first three movies had asked. It's a rather deplorable act that tries to bait the audience to come back for more. But I got a feeling that the targeted audience won't mind it at all.

Although I didn't appreciate strength of this movie (or the whole franchise), it's easy to see why there's such an appeal for this franchise. I could feel that the audience (mostly ladies) were genuinely scared by it.  Without the goriness (eg. the Saw franchise), a Paranormal Activity movie feels "safe" for a lady (or other timid individuals) who wants to be "scared" but didn't want the overly disgusted by the process. Personally, I just feel sad for the state of horror movies these days.

Rating: **

Paranormal Activity 4 (2012) on IMDb


At the end of a short credits roll, there a footage of foreign store and a weird old lady providing a jump scare. It seems like it might be the Latino spin-off that the Paranormal Activity creator Oren Peli has been talking about in April 2012.

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