By the time most horror franchises get to a fourth film there’s nothing really left creatively to accomplish. Fourth films in any franchise tend to become base money grabs for the most part. It’s hard to develop anything new once you’ve crafted more than one film in any franchise and Paranormal Activity has hit that franchise wall where there is nothing more to say.
The film picks up five years after the second film in the franchise did as a young teenage girl (Kathryn Newton) going through the pangs of adolescence with her parents (in a rocky marriage) and her dorky but appropriate boyfriend has her life turned upside down. How so? Her neighbors from across the way are a bit scary. Katie (Katie Featherstone) and her creepy adopted son show up and all of a sudden the paranormal starts happening around them. Using webcams to split up the feed, thus eliminating the problem of having one person with a camera the entire time, we get to see as the activity goes on.
The problem is that after the setup there’s not a whole that’s interesting or unique story wise. We’re given a new chapter in the ongoing story of Katie and the demon-worshipping coven that’s been in her lives since childhood (as we saw in the third film). The finale, which touches a little on the mythology of the characters, leaves us with the story ostensibly to be carried on in a fifth film next Halloween. It’s sad because the new setup has so much potential to tell a better story. By the end, when the usual shenanigans involving the paranormal winding up becoming deadly, there’s just a feeling that we’re going to end with even more story to tell as opposed to being a definitive ending. It’s a shame because for a film that has promised to do just that wound up leaving us waiting for another film because the franchise is still profitable this time around.
Being able to jump from various setups with a laptop, as well as occasionally via camera phone as well, gives us a new medium as opposed to merely having one person with a video camera. It’s interesting and intriguing as the series adapts to the modern technologies more prevalent than in the first film released five years ago. The new setups are fresh and unique; there’s only so much longer you can go with a found footage film that just exists with someone holding a video camera. Incorporating these new adaptations allows for a variety of situations without having to invent excuses for someone to be there with a video camera taping it. A simple line of dialogue and a laptop is simpler and more effective.
This is a franchise that’s basically grasping for straws at this point. It’s evident in the scares the film sets up; most of them are simple jump scares and none of them are all that new or inventive. These are slight variants on the usual shtick but the problem is that nothing interesting happens from some of the setups. A knife disappears from sight due to the supernatural and doesn’t end up slicing a finger or in someone’s back, for starters, and even the film’s violence-soaked finale is a slight variant on what’s already happened.
At the end of the day Paranormal Activity 5 is only a matter of time because the franchise is relatively inexpensive and able to be filmed fairly quickly. It’s a shame, though, because after a fairly ingenious take on the demonic possession genre to start the franchise has quickly become almost a self parody.
The only extra included on the set is the “Unrated” files which is an additional 30 minutes that would have been left on the cutting room floor.
Paramount Pictures presents Paranormal Activity 4. Directed by Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman. Written by Christopher Landon. Starring Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Katie Featherstone . Running time: 88 minutes. Rated R. Released: January 29, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.