New Scream Queen In Town
With film franchises, you'd wonder when one installment will finally come along to say, enough is enough. The challenge with each release of a film is primarily to show what its predecessor haven't, and with each release comes the hope that it has fresh ideas and new contributions to the series, rather than making use of what had already been done, and offer nothing new in comparison. Paranormal Activity now seems to be stuck in that rut with Film 4, and unless it can quickly turn things around with its already greenlit Film 5, its days are seriously numbered.
There's some continuity here given that directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman are brought back to helm this one, which gives them the opportunity to progress with the story after their retrospective prequel in Part 3. This allows them to tackle the curiosity of fans who have wondered about the fate of Hunter, now armed with a back story suggested by the earlier film. With Chad Feehan brought in for probably a fresh perspective in his story, with Christopher Landon now working the screenplay, it is most unfortunate that surprises are little, scares are scarce when compared to any of the earlier installments, and it's pretty much a rehash on techniques already seen, that they become stale the minute they are introduced.
Paranormal Activity 4 is set some 5 years after Paranormal Activity 2, where in 2011 we have the maturing of tools and technology, such as the video chat. From CCTV footage to walking down memory lane with the VHS tapes, the jerkiness of video over internet, as in the trailer, played up possibilities, which somehow remained rather unused in the actual film, which is a pity. There is opportunity to show the pitfalls in a congested medium to allow for either gaps in story or to heighten anticipation when unceremoniously paused, versus the always available, traditional video capture medium, but this one reverted back obviously for a more coherent narrative purpose at the expense of keeping it fairly realistic.
With each new film, we become accustomed to the scare techniques the filmmakers have utilized to date, and sticking to the same strategy for consistency and familiarity takes the surprise element out of the experience. You'd know to expect shadows at corners, as you would expect pets getting in the way for some cheap scares some time. Then there's the crashing of furniture, children running around in the wee hours of the night, and now the seemingly illogical moments where people do walk around the neighbourhood with a camera strapped somewhere, with its night vision turned on. Light switches seemed to have gone obsolete in the year 2011, not.
Kathryn Newton as Alex becomes the new scream queen here, almost single-handedly lugging the lacklustre film from beginning to end, as she plays big sister to her brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp), who befriends the strange kid next door Robbie (Brady Allen) when Robbie is taken in by Alex's mom Holly (Alexondra Lee) when his mom got hospitalized. Soon, enough things go bump in the night, and gets quite creepy especially when Robbie becomes unnecessarily touchy-feely, coupled with attitude unbecoming of a kid his age. What more, there's this inexplicable unseen friend both he and Wyatt play with, and soon, Alex's boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively) comes up with a great idea to start recording things through video cams. And more so to have the X-Box Kinect play a key role at capturing images of the supernatural.
But Chad Feehan's story creates more questions than answers, such as who are the kids Wyatt and Robbie and their roles critical to the plot. And with the prologue very much alluding to the story of Hunter and Katie (Katie Featherston), you'd expect them to pop up soon enough, and the connecting of the necessary dots. However, when that happened, it felt like it was being weighed down by its own albatross, unable to break free from what the earlier films have set up, and is forced to go along with it. Even the climax was more of a let down given its rehashing of a similar structure shared with the other films, that it probably is the moment in time when everyone in the audience will sit up since everything gets thrown onto the screen in its final five minutes.
The first Paranormal Activity surprised us with its simple yet effective found footage story. Now it makes the rest seem quite unnecessary. For true, unjaded fans only. The only kick I got out of this film, was the rookie experience in watching a movie strapped to a moveable chair that simulates motion on screen. So each time the camera moves, the seat will move in the same direction. Or if someone falls into bed, or something crashes to the ground. Or the constant hum of a vehicle. You get the drift. It's a dimension better than 3-D, because it provides that constant, and natural feedback directly
And while only a few rows of the cinema are equipped with D-BOX capability, buying a particular D-BOX seat activates it, which leaves out freeloaders from potentially enjoying the same experience without paying a premium, since it functions like a normal, non-movable chair if nobody purchased its ticket. And one can adjust the intensity of the movement, so go for the maximum kick for that sense of satisfaction, especially if the film has nothing new to offer.