So, the joke running around about Paranormal Activity 4 goes something like “Isn’t the activity pretty normal by this point?” Haw haw haw haw! Let’s see how much you’re laughing when a demon-faced skank snaps your neck like a pretzel. Er whatever.
Actually, the tragedy of this movie isn’t in the paranormal so much as it is the activity. As in, they should’ve called Paranormal Inactivity. It’s slow, is what I’m getting at.
Now, the series has always been marked by long, atmosphere building set pieces where your eyes strain to pick out ghosts in the grainy video footage, punctuated by sudden sharp violence, made all the more convincing by its swift, bloodless finality. The previous movies were quite a feat, really: A whole lot made out of very little action, kind of like the old, dark house movies of yore.
But as I noted last time, the effects are getting kind of played out. (The horror effects, the movies still have few special effects.)
If the franchise were about the story of Katie and her witchy family, they could have continued their trek back in time to see how the whole thing began, ditching the video camera approach for a more traditionally cinematic one.
But, of course, it’s not. It’s really all about the technique, and audiences would probably reject something that expanded the story while using a different approach. At the same time, there has to be some connection, I guess, because audiences would probably reject a new story, too. (See Halloween 3. Or don’t, it’s awful.)
So, we have a similar story as in the previous movies, about an apparently completely unrelated family that happens to live next door to Katie Featherstone (last seen stalking around the movies as a demon) and happens to have an adopted son. No one will be seated during the shocking twist tipped in the first scene!
Nah, that’s not fair. There’s no twist here. Well, the stinger is sorta twist-ish, in the sense that it’s only vaguely alluded to and primarily references the previous film, but it’s more likely to create a “huh?” than a frisson.
The only really fresh thing here actually comes from Microsoft (ironically, since MS never does anything fresh except by accident). The family has a Kinect, which is a cool device that allows you to control things on the X-Box without using a controller. The way it works, apparently, is to throw out infrared beams and detect movement through those multitude of beams.
Using night-vision, these beams look like a green dots plastering the room, which provide great camouflage for ghosts. (Who knew?)
Anyway, we thought the couple of moments where scares were actually employed were reasonably effective. Just very few and far between.
Despite doing relatively poorly, there will be a fifth movie, of course, but no one will blame you for having bailed out after the second one.