The success of the Saw films ensured that audiences were guaranteed one every year. Unfortunately all things come to an end and after seven releases, they called it a day much to the rejoice of many. There will always be a successor to the throne however, with the Paranormal Activity franchise taking this particular mantle.
The appeal to the films from a studio point of view is how little they cost to make. To date the combined budget of the series has been $8,015,000 USD with a box office of $576,571,650. Not a bad investment, so it’s understandable as to why they are being churned out at one a year.
However, if the Resident Evil franchise has taught us anything is that a film’s success doesn’t reflect it’s quality. The first Paranormal Activity was a decent addition to the popular found footage genre, and although it’s follow up was a little more silly, it still had enough scares to prove effective. Prequel Paranormal Activity 3 however was borderline ridiculous and a little familiar. Despite a few scares (and a $200 million profit) the series was already wearing thin.
The box office meant a sequel was inevitable and a new offering has been released just in time for Halloween…again.
It’s been five years since the possessed Katie (Katie Featherston) has disappeared with her baby nephew Hunter. The arrival of a single mother and her young son to the neighbourhood become the talking point, especially the behaviour of the boy. Robbie (Brady Allen) is a strange child at the best of times and outright creepy to say the least. Channeling the children from the Village of the Damned, he is taken in by his neighbours when his mother unexpectedly takes ill where he strikes up a friendship with the youngest child Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp). His teenage sister Alex (Kathryn Newton) thinks something is wrong with Robbie and assisted by her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively), hack into all the laptop’s webcams (there’s a few) and position them about the house to ensure no stone is unturned. It doesn’t take long before unexplained footage is recorded and Robbie’s friendship with Wyatt becomes more sinister.
Like previous installments, Paranormal Activity 4 takes a while to get going. There are a few scares within the first act, however the majority of them are “fake scares” such as a cat jumping in front of the camera or the (non demonic) characters jumping out on each other for laughs. What sets it apart from the other films (specifically the first two) as that it doesn’t go anywhere once the mood is created. The tension continues to build until you realise that the film is close to the end and nothing has really happened or looks like it’s going to. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman then try to cram a conclusion into the last five minutes, resulting in a film which turned out to be an near 90 minute youtube scare video.
There is nothing to surprise or intrigue in terms of the plot, though one reveal turns out to be a gaping plot hole if you take into account the previous films.
It could be said that the previous films tried to hard to invent a backstory for the demonic entity which took away a lot of the mystery. Here they don’t even care about a plot and decide that people will go and see it anyway regardless of what’s actually happening in the script. As long as people jump, they’ll leave the cinema happy.
Allen is the acting stand out, his stoic performance adds to an uncomfortable atmosphere that lasts for most of the first and second acts. Homages to The Omen, The Exorcist and The Shining suggests that the directors were running out of their own ideas. An overused night-vision set piece further adds weight to this theory. People being killed by the invisible man lost it’s appeal by the time the credits rolled on the first sequel, now it’s tiresome and is executed with zero effect that it’s almost hysterical if not inevitable.
At first it appears a decent entry to the series however it is unfortunately let down by a horrendous third act which overshadows the whole film. Not that the audience appeared to mind for the most part. See you same time next year.