I recently watched the latest in the Paranormal Activity series. I feel torn. On one spooky hand, it’s not a great movie, but on the other, it’s probably the best in the series to date.
But why do I watch movies? To be entertained. Did PA4 keep me entertained for 90 minutes? Sure. Is it a fun entry in an relatively unique franchise? Of course. Isn’t it irritating when people ask themselves questions and answer them? Definitely.
Note: complete spoilers on first three movies, but nothing specific about the latest one. Just generalities.
It would be fun to edit down the whole series into the plot points. You could easily tell each movie in a half hour. Things would move along, it would be great. Make it chronological while you’re at it. Open in the 80s with the whole PA3 bit. Aunt Lois is all witchy and the step-dad gets it. Then go onto PA2 meet the girls grown-up, and watch the husband decide to betray Katie. Then comes PA1, Katie gets all crazy-bothered by “Toby” while her jerk boyfriend jerks off to the creepy footage. Snippet ending of PA2 with Toby/Katie taking the baby and offing the family. That’s an hour, tops, and it’s fast-paced and stuff happens.
PA4 Cons: The parents were underutilized. I liked both of them, the dad especially because of his reaction to seeing something weird on the video tape. He just laughed, shook his head, and was all, “Kids with their video cameras.” That would be my reaction if someone showed me some Ghost Hunters caught on tape spookiness.
The main characters are practically obsessed with watching the nightly footage to see if anything weird happened, but then stop the day after something freaky does? Way too convenient.
The character switcheroo was handled poorly. It’s a spoiler so I won’t go into it, but it was a little haphazard and was like an episode of Lost. One thing is revealed, but it opened the door to three questions. At least there you had Hurley freaking out about it and Jack’s dad spying on them from the woods.
The coven. Okay, yeah, sequels have to reveal things. PA3 semi-explained that Aunt Lois was a witch who promised demon “Toby” a baby. Fine, I guess. Wasn’t in love with that revelation. The first movie was so effective because you didn’t know if it was a “regular” haunting or what. Could just be an evil psycho ghost. Or a demon. Whatevs. Now we know this group of witches is assisting Toby, and I don’t know. PA4 didn’t do much to explain anything about the coven, but just reinforced the fact that it exists. I want this to be a ghost movie, not a witch movie. Imagine if Freddy Krueger was worshiped by some cultists who helped him out. Why? *note: I think one of those hundreds of unused Freddy Vs. Jason scripts went that route. Complain about FvJ all you want, it could have been 100 times worse.
Pros: Likeable characters! What? Crazy. Our two heroes are the most likeable, believable characters in the franchise, which isn’t saying much, but you could pluck them out of PA4 and put them in another movie and you’d love watching them interact. At least we’ll never have to deal with Mycah from the first film again. “Oh, my girlfriend’s going crazy and she hates that I keep filming everything? Guess I’ll zoom in on a close-up!” That douche bag had it coming, whereas these characters I rooted for. And you weren’t sure if they were dating. They were in this nebulous friend/flirty zone instead of being placed in a cookie-cutter dynamic. Nice realism there.
Great use of modern technology. The Kinect dots things were cool. Some of the frights were effective. The bath tub had me squirming. Chandelier was a little Clue, but something had to happen.
Continuity. I complained about the coven, but at least it feels like it’s connected to the last movie. I enjoy a well-connected series, and this one feels like it’s in its own universe. Katie Featherston helps anchor them all, and I enjoy her limited screen time. Normally I’d wish for more, but there will be more in the sequels and I can live with that. Next Halloween I’m there for Paranormal Activity 5. Bring it on.
In closing, if you like the series, then you’ll like this one. If the found footage genre isn’t your liking, then don’t bother watching then bitching about it. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t try to, either. Three out of four stars.
This has been Elliot Arthur Cross reminding you that modern ghost movies make a point of not letting the family just move away. Too bad Hitchcock didn’t make The Birds today.