Where to start.
Paranormal Activity 4 is not–and I’m as surprised as anybody by this–a terrible movie. It deserves slightly better than the 4.6 it has on that IMDB link, and way better than the hilariously low 26% it currently has on Rotten Tomatoes. Clearly I have different standards than many reviewers. For instance, last year’s installment got a 68% on RT, but I felt it was by far the worst entry in the series.
At any rate, I didn’t hate this film nearly as much as those folks seemed to. That doesn’t mean I liked it, either. Rather, it was exactly what I’ve come to expect from the series: a lot of buildup leading to an inevitably overwrought conclusion featuring shoddy CG and high-decibel sound effects that make you think, briefly, that possibly something scary is happening, even though the action onscreen is fairly banal.
If you’re new to Paranormal Activity, here’s a brief rundown: the first film is about a couple living in a suburban McMansion who start to experience strange phenomena. The husband decides to catch it all on camera, and the movie is the footage he records. They supplement their recordings with frantic internet research, and the first site they find naturally contains exactly the right ancient folkloric wisdom to tell the protagonists and the audience exactly what’s going on. There’s lots of shadows and doors closing on their own, a lot of loud noises from a seemingly-empty house, and a lot of people getting dragged/thrown around by invisible spirit-things. That’s basically it.
The sequels are more of the same. There’s a nominal amount of exposition, but this is in reality the most stripped-down, Yugo-ish of vehicles for the series’ trademark “scary” moments. Essentially there’s a coven of witches who worship some demon guy, who possesses this girl and she kills her husband and then runs off, and it also apparently wants to get this kid because it needs one to–you know what? None of this matters. It’s utterly generic and gracelessly executed, and if I tried to string it together in a coherent narrative, I’d be forced to confront what a monumental waste of time and money it’s all been.
That sounded pretty negative. I’m sorry, Paranormal Activity, I know you did your best. It’s okay, have a seat over there next to Insidious and Sinister, and I’ll bring you boys some coloring books and sippy-cups of apple juice. 1408 made a mess again–we try so hard with him, but he’s just not adapting well, and–oh, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, you put that kitty down right now! You’ll spoil your dinner!
…I’m sorry, I went to a dark place there for a second. We went to a “Japanese” buffet tonight and the “General Chicken” doesn’t seem to be agreeing with the “tea” and “fortune cookie.”
PA4 is not bad. It just isn’t good. Like all the others, the main characters (in this one, an annoying teenage girl and her boyfriend) struggle to understand the weird stuff going on, turning to the internet for information on a strange symbol they find in connection with the eponymous abnormal goings-on (I mention this because it’s how pop culture always portrays folklore: a store of ancient traditional wisdom that’s floating out there in the ether, available for use in whatever supernatural dilemma you’re facing).
There are no scares except the cheapest of jump-scares. It’s devoid of even the first film’s shallowly-creepy atmosphere. It is entirely predictable, and feels precisely like what it is (i.e., a half-assed attempt to capitalize on the franchise’s name recognition). It is incredibly slow-moving, surprising for a POV film sequel to the jumpiest POV film ever. And it simply isn’t frightening.
But in its defense, it has solid performances by the whole cast (as solid as POV-style footage can afford), and it wasn’t Sinister.
Really, the Honest Trailer for the Paranormal Activity franchise is pretty damned accurate. Except no, she clearly isn’t hot. Glad I could solve that mystery.