Paranormal Activity 4

Paranormal Activity 4 (2012), directed Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

Well, here we are. Paranormal Activity 4. I doubt it’s the last we’ll be seeing of this series too, seeing as they can be made for the same price as a 1989 Honda Accord and gross over $30 million opening weekend.

You know, as a fan of these series up until PA 3, I still held out hope for PA 4. Most people (well, critics) seem to have given up on them. I don’t blame them, really. I get it. They are getting tedious.

That being said PA 4 is far better than PA 3 but still not that good. You know what I’m saying? We’re back in present day, so that works better given the immediacy of these movies. There’s some neat gimmicks, such as the Kinect dots. There are some genuinely chilling moments.

But it still has a been there, done that feel and offers no substantial breakthroughs, either in gimmick or story.

Okay, so here’s my problem as the series goes on: the filmmakers try to infuse the usual “bump in the night” routine with some much-needed mythology, but never take the time to try and have any of it make any sense.

This is lazy filmmaking at its worst. When Paranormal Activity came out its strength was its gimmick: the whole found-footage thing. It was a great horror film, even if for only the first time you saw it (which is true for many horror films). In the second one, for me at least, the gimmick still worked and there were some tweaks to it and the story worked. It might be my favourite of the series.

Then part three was terrible (see my review for reasons) and now the fourth one, although much better than the third, is still relying on the gimmick for everything. And if I’m tired of the gimmick, who the heck isn’t?

My point is, is that this far into a franchise you need to start to develop the story and mythology more. I’ve now seen four of these things and I still have no idea what these movies are about.

There’s a demon (?) named “Toby” who likes to possess young children and is summoned with the circle in triangle symbol thing. But he also possesses Katie, I guess. And can also wreck havoc as a paranormal entity. And he was summoned by some witches, or something? And is trying to get to Hunter? Even though he already had Hunter? But that was Robbie?

See what I mean? The filmmakers throw in a couple of plot tidbits and then don’t bother to explain anything, or even modestly develop any sort of backstory, and then just get back to the shaky cameras and things falling from the ceiling.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still some scary bits. I liked how it incorporated new technology, like Skype-ish video calls, into the found footage thing (even though, who keeps their laptop open all the time?). The young woman in the movie was excellent. There was certainly some creepy kid stuff that got under your skin. The ending is shocking, I guess.

But even then, with the ending, the only thing scary about it is it’s shocking and weird. It’s never explained. At all.

And it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares. I can’t find any fan pages and only a few reviewers trying to decipher the bits and pieces of mythology for the series, something easily found for other franchises. Because really, who cares? The filmmakers obviously don’t, otherwise they would put a little more effort into it. They love to just drop a few new twists right at the end, before cutting to credits and enticing us to go see the next one to maybe understand what’s going on (as unlikely as that is).

The filmmakers say they have a plan worked out and all will be explained but that sounds a bit too Lost-ish for my taste and I’m worried about how long they are going to take getting there. PA 4 is doing worse at the box office than PA 3 did, but it will still make buckets of money for Paramount and I’m sure they are more than happy to keep cranking them out. PA 5 is set for release next October, apparently.

And I’ll go see it. Because I’m committed to this franchise. Because as much as I know I’m being taken for a ride to get my hard-earned dollars, I’m still going to shell out and hope that something is explained. I know I’ll be disappointed, but I’ll be there. Maybe I’ll get a few scares out of it. Some tense, sweaty moments. Maybe I won’t.

But I’ll be there. I understand if you won’t be.

Paranormal Activity 4 is in theatres now.

Paranormal Activity 3

Paranormal Activity 3 (2011), directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

Well with Paranormal Activity 4 opening today and my Horror Pledge continuing, I figured it was about time I caught up and watched the third installment of (some will find this horrific enough) the most popular modern horror franchise. This one, part 3, made over $100 million in the States alone. Now, that’s not enormous but considering it cost about $5 million to make and that Cabin in the Woods made about $65 million worldwide, that’s saying something.

I’m a Paranormal Activity defender. For one thing, I like found footage films when they’re done right. And the first two Paranormal Activity films were done right. I saw the first in theatres and it scared the bejesus out of me. I loved it. I went with a girlfriend (she probably doesn’t read this, so it’s OK. If she does it’s a nice story anyway) who claimed not to be scared and then months later still wouldn’t be able to sleep if I mentioned it.

I watched the second one alone in my house and it’s probably one of the few times since I was a kid that I actually went and made sure the door was locked after it ended. It unnerved me. I loved it. In fact, I think part 2 might actually be the better movie of the series.

That being said, I can’t defend part 3. For as good as the first two in the series are great, the third one is horrendously bad.

It’s hard to pin down what it is that makes this one so poor compared to the others. Maybe it’s just me catching up with the rest of the thinking world in getting tired of the gimmick. Because despite how much I liked the first two, this one really felt old and tired. People in beds. Strange noises. Slowly escalating weirdness. A spooky kitchen mess making. Etc. Etc.

That’s exactly the formula of the first two, but somehow it worked for those. In this one it is tedious and dull. Part of it is certainly just that the freshness of the gimmick is running out. We’ve seen this all before now. When the first film came out, we hadn’t, and it was scary as hell. Now we know what to expect and watching the film go through the motions is frankly painful.

It’s not without a couple of gasp moments but it takes so long in getting to them that by the time they come around you’ve really stopped caring. And the film’s ridiculous attempt to throw in an explanation for the haunting is laughable and misguided. The filmmakers devote all of 30 seconds to it, pretty much just an offhand comment, and figure that will do for plot. It has something to do with witches, I think.

I think part of the problem is having it set in the past too. If nothing else the PA series relies on being immediate. It’s all about that moment that you’re watching, and because of the technological component (ie. the cameras) it also relies on feeling up to date and current; in the now. By setting in the past and using old technology, that puts up a divide between the audience and the movie that significantly reduces the impact.

I had heard that part 3 was terrible. I had hoped that my blissful ignorance of whatever everyone else hates about the series would continue, but alas I fear I have caught up. Paranormal Activity needs to come up with something new, or just quit, before it becomes one of those horror series with endless sequels that no one cares about.

Somehow, part 4 will make a tonne of money this weekend. Some if it will be mine. But my anticipation is low.

Paranormal Activity 3 is available on home video.