Thursday, 25 October 2012

Paranormal Activity 4

The "Paranormal Activity" series is the marmite of horror franchises; you either love the series, or you hate it. I happen to be a big fan of the first three films, meaning I had high expectations for this fourth instalment. Perhaps that was where I went wrong..

"Paranormal Activity 4" picks up where the second instalment left off; Katie has kidnapped Hunter and violently murdered the rest of her family. Now, 5 years later, we meet a new family, primarily the daughter, Alex and her boyfriend Ben. When their neighbour from across the street falls ill, they take in her son; a young boy named Robbie, who has become friends with Alex’ young brother, Wyatt. Once Robbie moves in, all sorts of shit goes down...etc yeah we've seen it all before.

That is the films main problem; we have seen it ALL before. The Paranormal Activity series is widely recognised for its innovative scares and unique approach to filmmaking, but PA4 seems to just halt these claims dead. Unfortunately, whilst it was once an innovative horror franchise, this is just an average horror film. Here's the lowdown...

Alex is extremely likeable as the protagonist this time around; she's nice, caring towards her brother, funny and seemingly an interesting character overall. Her boyfriend Ben is also pretty funny, albeit sometimes annoying. But when it comes to the characters, we aren’t given anymore. We get no further development of any character within this film, making it near impossible for us to care about who lives or dies. This isn’t to say the acting is bad though, Kathryn Newton and Matt Shively play the two lead roles convincingly. The kid playing Robbie is exceptional. A serious contender for the creepiest horror kid ever!

The Paranormal Activity films take their stride with their excellent cinematography and Mise-en-Scene. Once the cameras (or laptops, in this case) are set up, we get used to the same static shots being shown. And they are consistently creepy. Each set has been constructed with looming shadows, empty doorways and a realistic amount of household objects, just to add to the practically non-existent realism of the film. Every time we are presented with a title card detailing us the night number and date, the shots are so well produced that you will be scanning every pixel on that screen to see if anything is out of place.

But the thing is, when something is out of place, directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman rarely do anything about it. For the first act, scares are non-existent, besides a few increasingly irritating fake-outs. The second act adds to the tension (in particular, an exceptional jolt involving a missing kitchen knife), but still doesn't quite produce anything with genuine fear. And, unfortunately, neither does act 3. It ups the antics, but not by enough to even produce a whimper. Yeah, you'll jump, but so will anyone if you throw in a sudden bang after a long period of silence.

The majority of faults in this film lie with its direction. Joost and Schulman largely don’t even try to bring anything new here. The only mildly interesting feature they’ve conjured up here is the use of Kinect as a living room scare-maker. Other than that, the actual story has little to no relevance to the previous instalments until the final act, and even then it’s nothing you won’t expect. It feels as if we’ve now reached the stage where they’re producing these films solely for money, and not for the audience to have a keen interest. I doubt the fifth instalment next year will have a warm Box Office reception either.

Whereas PA2 had the terrifying basement scene, and PA3 used the whole final act to leave audiences shaking, PA4 fails to have that effect. This is primarily because there are no prolonged scares. Every scare this time around is a quick "BOO!" and then it's done with. The final scene only really lasts five minutes, with just two unoriginal, albeit very effective, jumps. PA2 left me shaking for hours and PA3 had me scared to go home, but when the credits rolled at the end of 4, I just stood, unfazed, and left. It will have no imprint on your mind whatsoever.

And this is a real shame. PA1 found hope for both the Horror and Found Footage genre, using originality and subtle scares to a massive advantage. PA2 took everything that worked the first time around, and made it bigger. In some respects, that was a poor move, but overall it made it a better film than the original. PA3 brought in many new ideas and a proper backstory for the series, and contained the scariest final scene I have ever witnessed. And PA4? 4 just made me jump a few times. Oh.

Overall, PA4 brings nothing new to the table in any respects. The story is hardly (if anything) built on, the scares are mostly replicas of scenes we've already seen, and it follows the same basic formula we've witnessed 3 times before. Basically, this is the first time the franchise has stumbled. And it was all going so well...

To Summarise: It still manages to produce a few good jolts, but Paranormal Activity 4 ultimately fails to build on anything the once unique franchise has already done. 

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