Directed By: Henry Joost & Ariel Shulman (Paranormal Activity 3)
Starring: Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Brady Allen, Aiden Lovecamp, Katie Featherston
Rating: R for some language and violence/terror
Run Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Synopsis: 15-year-old Alex (Newton) and her family take in a young boy named Robbie (Allen) who lives across the street when the boy's mother falls ill. Soon after, weird things start to happen and Robbie seems to be having a negative effect on Alex's little brother, Wyatt (Lovecamp). Alex and her friend Ben (Shively) set up cameras around the house to see what's going bump in the night and discover more than they bargained for.
REVIEW (warning: this is a bit of a lengthy post)
Andrew: Hello readers! Because Sarah had to work late the other night and because she wouldn’t want to see it anyways, so I saw Paranormal Activity 4 all by my lonesome. The latest entry in the popular horror movie franchise, it’s the fourth-film Paranormal Activity film in as many years about a California family haunted by a demon and the mythology of that demon in the family’s history.
So Sarah, you didn’t want to see this one with me because it’s a scary movie, so we’re going to do this review as an interview. So what do you want to ask me?
Sarah: Have all of the Paranormal Activity films followed the same family?
A: Yes. (**SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FIRST THREE. I’M ABOUT TO SUMMARIZE THE SERIES A BIT FOR SARAH**)
The first film starts with a couple, Katie and Micah, and Katie explains during the film that weird things happened to her and her sister Kristi when they were younger. The second film shows Kristi and her family – her husband, daughter and baby son – and the events of that one sort of take place before and during the events of the first one, converging at the end with Katie killing her family and kidnapping her nephew. The third one is a prequel to PA1 and PA2 that takes place during 1988 and it shows you what actually happened to them when they were younger.
Katie explains in the first one that she doesn’t remember exactly what happened when she and Kristi were younger but that Kristi never wants to talk about it. So PA3 shows us that their grandmother was involved with a coven and promised her family’s first-born son to this demon that we only know as “Toby,” because that’s what Kristi called it when they were younger.
So now, the fourth one follows a teenage girl named Alex, her younger brother Wyatt, her mom and her dad. They live in Nevada where they get some new neighbors, a young woman and her 6-year-old son, and lo and behold the woman is Katie and the boy is the age her kidnapped nephew should be except his name is Robbie, not Hunter.
Well Katie is taken away by an ambulance one night and because Robbie has no other relatives, Alex’s mother decides to let him stay with their family. As soon as Robbie shows up weird things start going bump in the night to the new family.
(**END OF SPOILERS**)
S: I remember mentioning in the preview we wrote last week that my old college roommates went and saw the first one when it came out and they were terrified of it. Because it was presented as found-footage that realism is what really scared them. So how does Paranormal Activity 4 stack up against the rest of the films in the series in regards to its presentation and how scary it is?
A: It’s in the same vein in comparison to the others. What this series does well, why I think it’s so scary, is because it taps into your most basic fears – things that go bump in the night, not being able to quite see or make out what’s going on, and just an overall sense of permeating dread.
In fact the most dread-filled scenes are the ones where it’s three o’clock in the morning, everybody is supposed to be asleep, but the film is showing you the different cameras in different rooms and you start looking around the screen trying to see what might be moving or what might happen next. And a lot of times those shots linger…
S: So you don’t know if something is going to move, and then it moves to the next room?
A: Yeah. And sometimes it will focus on one character, like PA4 focuses a lot on Alex and her brother. So the cameras will sometimes focus on their bedrooms while they’re sleeping and it taps into the thought process of, “I sleep! Is that what my room looks like when I’m asleep?!”
S: Oh that’s creepy.
A: And even if nothing is happening, you’re looking around the room expecting something to happen. PA4 does that as well as the others did.
Now what I liked about this series is that every movie has been a little different in how it’s presented, how they shot the film. The first one was just hand-held cameras Micah used to capture what was going on in the house, the second one was primarily security camera footage the family installed after a break-in, the third one was hand-held but was made to look like it had been filmed in the late 80s and had that vintage look, and this time they used lots of high-tech stuff.
Like Apple is very prevalent in the film, what with characters using iPhones and MacBooks, so they use webcams on those devices. Alex and her sort of boyfriend, Ben, set up all the laptops in the house to be constantly recording with their webcams and one hidden hand-held camera in the living room. So all through the movie you have minimal lighting where only the glow from the computer is being used or they’re using night-vision on the hand-held camera.
The COOLEST thing they do in this movie is Ben shows Alex, Wyatt and Robbie how using the night-vision on his camera you can see all the infrared dots Wyatt’s Xbox Kinect uses to monitor movement. I want to know how they did that, if they were actually able to film the Kinect’s actual infrared dots. But anyways, Ben turns off all the lights and using the night-vision shows them all the infrared dots covering the living room which is neat and it gives the characters black-looking eyes.
But what’s cool about it is that because the infrared dots are meant to capture movement, every now and then the night-vision picks up something invisible moving in the living room because the dots move. So the rest of the movie when they cut back to a shot of the living room, you’re constantly looking around trying to see if any of the dots are moving.
S: That’s so cool! Freaky, but cool!
A: So that was really creative I think. I liked that they tried to get innovative instead of just relying solely on the old stuff we’ve seen, much like in PA3 they did something cool where they taped a camera to the top of an oscillating fan so it would pan back and forth between rooms, so you could see what was happening in two different rooms but you were also left blind for a bit while the fan was turned one way.
But to answer your original question, it’s on the same level as the others. I wasn’t as scared during this one as I was during the first three, but I think that was a combination of this being the fourth time through some very similar movies and because there was a huge group of teenage girls in the theatre and you know what they do?
S: They scream really loud?
A: Well that, but they also laugh a lot as a defense mechanism. That got annoying really quick.
So yeah, it was on the same level as the others because it sets up that sense of dread and not knowing what’s going to happen next. This series does a great job making an empty house look totally menacing.
S: It’s seems like to me, at least, that there have been a lot of scary movies come out this year. How does this compare to films like Sinister and Chernobyl Diaries or whatever else has come out this year?
A: So far it’s relatively similar to what’s come out this year, because there haven’t been any slasher or monster movies, per se. It’s all been haunted houses or found-footage films.
I think Paranormal Activity 4 does better than Chernobyl Diaries and is on the same sort of level as Sinister, because Sinister did a good job building up that dread, too. For the most part, if you found the first few Paranormal Activity films scary, you’ll probably find this one relatively scary as well.
S: Since I’ve never seen any of these movies, I wonder how the acting is. I get the feeling that they’re very amateurish and none of these people are really seen in anything else. They’re not really notable names other than the fact they’ve been in these movies before.
A: Well you’re partly right and partly wrong. Most of the actors in these films are not well-known names, but there is the occasional actor I’ve recognized from other films or television shows, like Stephen Dunham, who plays the dad in this one. (Editor’s note: After writing this review I read that Dunham passed away in September of a heart attack, and that his wife Alexondra Lee was the actress who played the mom in PA4. Very sad to read.)
To answer your question, the acting is actually pretty good. A relative weakness of the original was that Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat weren’t particularly good or well-known, which helped with making it feel so real…
S: Because no one had seen them before.
A: Exactly. Then with PA2 you start to get some better acting…Katie Featherston is in it again but she’s better…PA3 you got seem even better acting, and then now PA4 probably had the best acting of the series so far.
The actress who plays Alex, Kathryn Newton, is playing a 15-year-old girl and it felt very real. The actor who plays her boyfriend Ben, Matt Shively, does a pretty good job, he also felt very real.
But the strength of this film were the two young boys, Brady Allen and Aiden Lovecamp, who play Robbie and Wyatt, respectively. Brady is creepy as hell as Robbie and Aiden does a great job, too. They’re a strength of the movie because you’re dealing with child actors who did a fantastic job acting like real kids but used their innocence to enhance the evil stuff that was going down.
Overall, the acting is pretty good but something I just kind of touched on and want to expand on is that another reason these films are creepy is because, with the exception of the first one, they all involve children.
S: Yeah…there’s just something about children being in horror movies that freaks me out.
A: Right? So other than the original there’s a baby and a teenage girl in the second one, two little girls in the third one, and then a teenager and two young boys in the fourth one. So when bad stuff is happening to children or there are demonic things happening around children, like little kids walking around the house in the middle of the night?
S: And I personally feel like some of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen all dealt with children, like The Omen and The Shining. Like those two little girls in The Shining and the main little boy who says, “Redrum?” I’ll credit them for give them a lot of credit for a lot of the creepy kids who followed in horror movies later.
A: Well funny you should mention The Shining, because one of my favorite moments in PA4 is an homage to The Shining where Wyatt is riding around the house on a big-wheel, circling the kitchen island, going down different hallways and it just was very reminiscent of Danny doing that in Kurbrick’s classic. ‘Twas a neat little homage, I thought.
But yeah, the acting has gotten better as the series has gone along, and I thought it was a bold step to make the main actor in this one a 15-year-old girl whom not many people may have seen before.
S: Now, I’ve mentioned before how I feel about movies turned into franchises, or what I like to call the “Land Before Time syndrome” so I have to ask: will there be a fifth Paranormal Activity? Will it be like Saw where there was a fifth one and a sixth one?
A: Well, first I want to know what you mean by the “Land Before Time syndrome.”
S: You know, where they make an original movie that’s successful and then they make another, and then they’re like, “Let’s make five more!”
A: I guess I understand what you mean, but you’re also using a bad example comparing this to The Land Before Time, because after the first one all of those movies were direct-to-video. They keep making the Paranormal Activity movies because they make a TON of money at the box office.
S: True, and they do right by releasing them during the month of October.
A: The makers of Paranormal Activity came around at the right time. The Saw franchise was winding down, “torture porn” movies as a whole were dying down…
S: Excuse me?
A: Movies like Saw and Hostel are referred to as “torture porn.”
S: That’s creepy as hell.
A: So that genre was dying down a bit and while it hasn’t been a super long time since The Blair Witch Project it was still long enough for the found-footage genre to be relatively fresh.
And then the big thing about Paranormal Activity is that it is the most profitable movie of all-time. They made it for $15,000 and it made over $100 million at the box office. It was quick and cheap to make a sequel and because of the style of movie it was, the relative quality of the film wasn’t hampered by the quick production and it too made a lot of money at the box office. And so they just keep doing that and I’m fine with it.
I like that about scary movies. Horror movies have had that for a long time. You’ve had countless Friday the 13th movies, countless Halloween movies, A Nightmare on Elm Street…
S: But the thing with those is that to me, there’s always an original that will always be the best.
S: For Saw and for the Paranormal Activity movies, because they’ve gone through the theatres in the way that they have, I feel like…everybody can have their favorite. Which to me kinda means that you can’t compare the Halloween movies and the Friday the 13th movies…
A: That’s not necessarily true.
S: Then I’m going to harshly disagree with you on this.
A: Well why do you say that?
S: Because Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street…there will always be an original. After that they’re just remakes essentially.
A: But that’s not necessarily true. We’ve kind of gone on a bit of a tangent but I think this is still relevant to Paranormal Activity, yes you have your original but the sequels all kind of changed things up a bit.
In Halloween you have the first one, which much like Paranormal Activity, was an independent film that made a huge profit so they made a second one. But then with Halloween, John Carpenter and his producing partner, Debra Hill, decided they didn’t want to take part in a third Halloween film unless it wasn’t a direct sequel to the first two. So Halloween III is a totally different movie that has nothing to do with Michael Myers.
It’s a completely different story, and while at the time it wasn’t that big of a hit and fans of the first two were upset that Myers wasn’t in the new one (which caused the producers to make all the rest about him), the third one has turned into a bit of a cult classic that stands alone on its own pretty well now.
Friday the 13th…Jason Vorhees? The villain of the series? He isn’t even IN the first one until the very end, and even then he isn’t the masked killer he would become in the rest of the franchise. It’s not even until the third film of that series that Jason starts to wear his famed hockey mask. He’s the bad in the second one but he’s not the bad guy in the first one.
A Nightmare on Elm Street? That series actually got progressively better for a few films until the character of Freddy Krueger turned into more of a slapstick villain than he was scary and the focus was more on his inventive kills than a good story. But even then they sort of rebooted it with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, which I’m a particular fan of.
The thing about the Paranormal Activity series, and it’s almost starting to do the same thing as A Nightmare on Elm Street, it actually got better as it went along. The second one is better than the first one, and the third one was better than both of the first two.
S: It’s the scariest?
A: Not just the scariest, but the creativity was fantastic, it gives you more of a backstory on the series’ mythology, it answered some questions but left you with some new ones…
Paranormal Activity 4 isn’t as good as the first few but it’s still not bad and I’ll be curious to see where they go with it. But this COULD be somebody’s favorite of the series.
I don’t mind that they have a new one come out every Halloween. It’s something people look forward to, like, “Oh it’s October again? Another Paranormal Activity is coming out soon! Let’s go see it because we’ve seen all the others!” It’s a fun little event thing and it’s profitable for the studios. As long as the quality remains the same or gets better, and as long as the story doesn’t get TOO convoluted like Saw did, they’ll be fine.
S: Yeah, because Saw really did lose its way. How many were there? Six?
A: Seven actually. The first one was great, then they started pushing the envelope of what they could show, and just as they reached that plateau they made a bigger mistake of killing of their bad guy in the third one which was a huge mistake.
You know what? This has been an interesting little discussion we just had on horror movies. I’m pleasantly surprised by that.
S: Yeah, me too!
A: But to answer your question, yes, there will be a Paranormal Activity 5. They set it up at the end of this one, it’s already highly profitable for the studio, while it didn’t make as much as its predecessors did it still won the weekend. They made this one with that in mind, absolutely they did, which actually hinders this one a bit because there’s not a great payoff at the end. If that payoff comes in the fifth one I’ll be okay with it.
S: Well, I’m going to disagree with you on the horror series thing. We are allowed to disagree on this blog.
A: It’s encouraged, in fact.
S: So what would you rate Paranormal Activity 4?
A: If you’re a fan of the series then you should see it in theatres. Otherwise just Netflix it.
|(Individual Scores - S: N/A A: 2.5/5)|
Photo Courtesy: Dread Central