Monday, October 22, 2012


The trailers promise us that "all of the activity has led to this" - and if you can keep from thinking about the myriad of questions raised by Paranormal Activity 4, you're definitely in for a good time. Plus: The inevitable announcement of a fifth installment, the future direction of the franchise, and...a Poltergeist-esque curse?!

Taking over the now defunct "it's Halloween, time for another Saw" tradition, the Paranormal Activity franchise is back again for more of its usual found footage frights. Each film since the original has only offered minor tweaks to the formula, which is wise. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. The gimmick in PA4 is our teenage protagonist Alex's laptop video chats with her boyfriend Ben, the latter of whom's recording of said chats is the impetus for the whole-house-surveillance to come. 

Warning: Spoilers to follow!

Picking up 5 years after Katie disappeared with baby Hunter at the end of PA2, Alex (the excellent Kathryn Newton) lives with her parents and her adoptive younger brother Wyatt in their well-to-do Nevada home. She has a charmingly sweet boyfriend named Ben. Unfortunately she also has Katie - going by a different name - as a neighbor. After Katie is rushed to the hospital, her "son" named "Robbie" goes to stay with Alex and her family. Which is when the strange goings-on begin.  

With a total running time of 1 hour and 28 minutes, PA4 smartly doesn't waste much time in escalating the scares. Falling chandeliers are still the one of the franchise's signature moves, and the lighting fixtures themselves seem to get bigger and more elaborate with each sequel. While at first glance it may look like the filmmakers have saddled us with a completely generic family, we soon learn that Alex's brother Wyatt may in fact be Hunter. 

There's a surprisingly strong connection between Paranormal Activity 4 and the preceding sequels, finally tying in Hunter's story with the demonic-lady-cult origins we saw in the 80s-set PA3 (also directed by Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman). The dreaded circle/triangle symbol is back, as is "Toby" - the name given to the demon in the last film. 

A new addition, however, is the very clever use of infrared tracking dots projected by an Xbox Kinect. The night vision pointillism makes for an unnerving sight, even when there's not a creepy ghost boy wandering in and out of the frame. A lot of people are taking major issue with the blatant product placement of the gaming system, but I actually appreciated it. Your average real person doesn't exactly have easy access to hi-tech surveillance equipment...let alone the kind required for ghost hunting. 

As the activity heads toward its fever pitch, so also does the amount of questions I had. I've been able to suspend my disbelief that reasonable people wouldn't just leave after even some of the milder phenomena takes place in their home. Otherwise I'm not sure that I could properly enjoy these movies. But whereas in the third film there was a "twist" ending, the questions I couldn't shake in PA4 were unfortunately ones that seem to be most attributed to an undercooked plot:

  • Did Katie just lose Hunter at some point? She and the baby's whereabouts were unknown, but at some point he had to have entered the system's care, in order to get adopted by Alex's family. 
  • If Wyatt is Hunter, then WHO THE FUCK IS ROBBIE?! Seriously, that kid was creepy. Is he simply a demonic minion taking the form of a child?
  • How many demons are we dealing with, at this point? Katie is possessed by...something, meanwhile Toby is running around at the same time in addition to the ghost boy we can only see when the Kinect is on.
  • What's in the closet? Robbie is always seen wearing a lanyard around his neck with a key on it. When Alex is investigating his house across the street, we see a closet with a padlock on it...and it's never addressed again.

My major criticism of PA3 was its highly deceptive trailer, which was comprised almost exclusively of really cool footage that we'd never see in the actual movie. Paranormal Activity 4 is beleaguered by this same problem, but thankfully to a much lesser extent. 

This time it's limited primarily to the first teaser trailer, and it's fairly easy to tell that these scenes were filmed before the movie itself. The format of the video chats is different (picture-in-picture), as are the haircuts. We also glimpse what looks to be an entire subplot of motion sensor lights in Alex's house going on the fritz, as a result of Toby's malevolent presence.  

Most notable, however, is the elusive TRAILER SHAPE: a completely dark figure, usually seen standing behind one of the main characters unbeknownst to them. We last saw the Trailer Shape in the Bloody Mary teaser for PA3...but as per usual, it never materializes in the final cut of the film. You could argue that it's supposed to be Katie this time around, but it still strikes me as strange that Paramount markets these movies with a "monster" that they have no intention of showing us.


The Good
Alex & Ben are more capable than I would have expected from teen actors.
The garage scene was perfectly executed.
"Esto es sólo el principio" | "This is only the beginning."

The Bad
Alex's parents' marital problems must stem from them both being incredibly stupid.
Katie still isn't a very good actress, which is something you kinda need to be in order to play someone possessed by a demon.
See above, re: QUESTIONS.

The Curse
Alex's DILF-y father in the film was played by Stephen Dunham, who was married in real life to his onscreen wife Alexondra Lee. Notice the past tense? He died of a heart attack last month, on his 48th birthday. Coincidence? Or Curse of the Activity?!

The Future
Paramount announced over the weekend that they've greenlit Paranormal Activity 5 (duh), as well as a yet-untitled spin-off project aimed at the franchise's rabid Latino fanbase. Directors Joost and Schulman hint at this in the post-credits scene, which is all in Spanish and appears to take place in Mexico. The project will be helmed by Michael Landon's very attractive son Christopher, whose previous work includes Disturbia.

Now that a Paranormal Activity film has been released, it's officially time for Halloween! PA4 is probably the strongest entry thus far, and I'm very curious as to how they'll continue the story next year. Regardless, I'm excited! These will always be my kinda movies - flaws and all. Fingers crossed they leave Robbie out of the next one, though. Fucking. Creepy.

Related Articles:
Paranormal Pranksters (Paranormal Activity 3 review)

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