Movie Review: Paranormal Activity 4 – the franchise stumbles…

Admittedly cool, but not enough…

In the interest of full disclosure it’s worth noting that I am a huge fan of movies in general, and of the horror genre in particular.  I go to the movies mainly to have a good time and I tend to find something good in anything I see.  That’s not to say I don’t recognize the missteps, and I do try to be objective and balanced in my reviews, but I am often accused by friends of “liking everything”.  That said, it will likely come as a surprise that I was very disappointed with PA4.  I am a big fan of this franchise and the vision of its creators.  I am also a definite fan of Joost and Schulman (Catfish was a brilliant debut), so I was thrilled when these two creative teams paired up for PA3.  And the results, at least initially, were good.  Where the second film played it fairly safe, not attempting to fix what wasn’t broken and instead focusing on filling in backstory, the third film departed a bit in ways that fit within the basic context of the film, but expanded both the scope and style.

Unfortunately, the fourth film is an almost total misstep.  I think a real opportunity was missed in this final return to “present day” and the first proper “sequel” to the original.  The “found footage” gimick has finally become a barrier, in my eyes, and that is unfortunate.  There was some clever usage of technology, without a doubt, but I think the franchise is in danger of becoming more about how to present evolving flavors of adhoc recording rather than telling a disturbing story.  With PA4, the tail is wagging the dog.

While some accused the first two follow-ups of this same flaw, I think the fact that they provided important historical context made them worthwhile.  In addition, the third film in particular, provided some genuinely creepy moments.  The latest installment falls back on “jump scares” far too often and leans on the prior movies too blatantly.

A fifth film is inevitable and the post credit teaser shows that additional spin-offs are inevitable as well.  I can only hope that the creative teams involved rediscover their brilliance rather than phoning it in and milking the cash cow.  And yes, it definitely hurt to say that.  Personally, I am rooting for them and am willing to give them a pass for this one.


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