Saturday, 20 October 2012

[Review] Paranormal Activity 4 - Sleeping tight

It has been five years since the disappearance of Katie and Hunter, and a suburban family witness strange events in their neighborhood when a woman and a mysterious child move in.

If there is one thing the Paranormal Activity series has taught me, it's if I ever find myself in a house prone to misogynistic demon squatters, I shan't be doing any investigating, no, I will be bolting the door shut and slipping on a pair of head phones. This is a technique that has so far been rejected by hyper-curious protagonists in the series, now in it's fourth outing.

I said in my Sinister review that a horror movie can be made the a good theatre atmosphere, or at least spared. Watching people watch the movie can prove an entertaining counterpart, or replacement if what's on screen is found wanting. The Paranormal Activity series has been an effective example in illustrating my theory. Witnessing an audience jump, scream, gasp, laugh and shout calls to mind a modern day Cinema Paradiso and to this day proves to be one of my most guilty cinematic pleasures. 

After a short series of flashbacks reminding us of what went down at the end of Paranormal Activity 2 (the third film was a prequel) set back in 2006. Five years on, and the film picks up with a new family, which honestly left me dumbfounded, at four films in why give us somebody new? At this stage we know the major players, although what they want is still up for grabs, so these late additions feel a lot like space occupiers until the real party shows up. Despite this, and a rather half-hearted subtext about suburban dissatisfaction and the knock-on effects on children, lead Alex (played by Kathryn Newton) and boyfriend Matt (Matt Shively) produce fairly natural performances and believable hormonal endorsed interactions (including a webcam scene I'm surprised wasn't cut in light of recent events.) 

Logic has never been this series strong point, protagonists have been defying common sense since the beginning and this time it shades all sense of plausibility. Time and time again you'll find yourself questioning not just the characters actions but the story as well. Plot points and information are tossed out without any explanation or development, characters fade in and out of the action whenever it suits and by the time Alex is running around the amidst the shenanigans with a laptop, you can't help but feel that these guys aren't brave or curious, they're just stupid

These issues spill over to the film making as well. Just a word of advice to directors Joost and Schulman, when you have a film based entirely off repeated camera angles, continuity errors are a big no. There's also an abundance of jump cuts this time, characters teleport around the frame for no reason other than to speed up the action. I said in my Sinister review that there was a digital sense to movies evil. Such is not the case here, an opportunity to do something new is missed and the film's overall design seems well... just lazy.

By now the formula has lost all steam, where the original film was restrained and paced, here it's just frustrating and pointless. We know the routine, we know the scares and we do not need the first 40 minutes of this film. The tagline for this forth entry reads; All the activity has led to this. I wish we got a sense of that.

The only new addition to the scares this time around is the rather effective Microsoft Kinect. The thousands of projected tracking dots lead to some of the films best moments but it's a poor substitute for last years low tech 'Fan-Cam.' Otherwise the usual abundance of creaking doors, possessed furniture and the ole' leg drag make their usual, and by now predictable appearance. If the first film was playing on middle class fears of home invasion, here the terror lies in their material possessions with homicidal cars (a nod to Hithcock's Shadow of a Doubt), flying chandlers and of course the aforementioned Kinnect. It would be a lie if I said it lacked any real heart pounding moments, but they're spread so thinly that you can't help feel that they are running out steam, something that I believe the audience agreed with. The usual hundrum and buzzing was reduced to a quiet murmur that evaporated when the scene ended.

When your horror film's best sequence is a rather tongue-in-cheek Shining reference, you're in trouble.

Paranormal Activity 4 has all the hallmarks of a series that is running out of steam. It's cluttered mythology, senseless characters and repetitive tactics have really hit a wall here. It's still can provide cheap weekend thrills with brief glimpses of ingenuity, but I feel it's time to put this series to bed, with the door shut and the camera off.  


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