CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (2012)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares
(The Scene: A bedroom. MICHAEL ARRUDA lays in bed asleep. For a long time. The words, “3:13 AM. Night 13” are superimposed on screen. Still, nothing happens. MA looks up at camera.
MA: This is a long time for nothing to be happening. Too long.
THE VOICE OF L.L. SOARES: You said it. If I were making this movie, I would have chopped your head off already.
MA: Where are you?
(Bedroom door swings open, revealing the silhouette of a person.)
MA: Well, that’s predictable. Couldn’t you think of a more original place to hide?
LS: Um, that’s not me… I’m in here. (Climbs out of a bureau drawer.)
MA: That’s not so predictable. How did you fit in there?
LS: It’s not real. It’s a prop. Just like this carving knife (raises knife). You would have been in for one helluva surprise reaching for your clothes this morning.
MA: Lucky for me, I’m already dressed. (Climbs out of bed, fully dressed.)
LS: You’re an odd duck.
(Silhouette in door steps forward, revealing that it’s a woman. Suddenly, she stomps forward, her steps booming loud, and MA & LS scream. She grabs LS by the head and twists it around full circle, then leaps at MA and does the same to him.)
LS (with head spinning): Hey, this is cool! Woo-hoo!
MA (head also spinning): It gets the kinks out.
LS (to woman): Thanks! This feels great!
(WOMAN frowns, then Exits. LS & MA’s heads stop spinning.)
MA: That was different. I think I’m ready to review today’s movie now.
LS: Start us off, then.
MA: Today we’re reviewing PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (2012), the fourth film in the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY series, a series that admittedly has grown on me, so I was actually looking forward to seeing it. But as movies go, this one’s about as deep as—(walks to the bed and pulls a feather out of a pillow) — as this feather. In other words, it’s a lightweight movie if I ever saw one.
Since PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 was a prequel, this movie follows the events of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2, and at the end of that movie, Katie (Katie Featherston) kills her sister, her sister’s husband, and walks away with their little boy, Hunter. That movie ended with the superimposed words on the screen stating that Katie’s and Hunter’s whereabouts remain unknown.
And that’s where the action picks up in this movie, as we meet a new family, specifically a 15-year-old girl, Alex (Kathryn Newton) who spends most of her time with her boyfriend, Ben (Matt Shively). Alex lives with her parents and younger brother, and next door to them lives a creepy little boy named Robbie (Brady Allen) and his mom, who we assume, of course, are really Hunter and Katie.
LS: Which may or may not be the case.
MA: One night, the little boy’s mom is rushed to the hospital—supposedly, as this is what Alex’s mom says, and we don’t actually see this— and so the strange little boy temporarily moves in with Alex’s family, since he has no other family of his own.
LS: Well, we kind of do see this. We see an ambulance across the street at Robbie’s house with its siren flashing. And Alex’s mom says that she was asked to take Robbie in. But no, we never actually see Robbie’s mother physically being carried to the ambulance.
MA: And of course, since he is a strange little boy, weird creepy things start happening in the middle of the night, including visits from the ghost or demon who’s been haunting the folks in all these movies, the spectral dude known as Toby.
You know, you’d think that Toby would pick a house without so many friggin cameras, so he could actually accomplish something without people watching him!
LS: Maybe he’s an attention hog!
MA: Of course, that’s the gimmick in the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, that everything is filmed by the cameras of the characters in the movie, to give it a realistic feel. And for the most part, this gimmick works. It’s why these movies are fun, because there are long moments of silent “in the middle of the night” footage which prompts audience members to yell out various comments, because they can’t stand the tension.
Of course, for story purposes, this gimmick made the most sense in the first movie. I can believe some guy filming everything on his video camera. In the second film, the family was concerned about burglars, and so they had security cameras installed, and that’s how we saw all the footage in that film.
In this one, Alex’s boyfriend Ben is a computer geek, and so he records everything with his computer camera, and so when the strange events start happening in Alex’s house, she has Ben fix all the computers in the house so they’ll be taking video footage 24/7. Not that this is unbelievable, but like I said, what are the odds that every house Toby haunts has cameras on him all night? I’m suspending disbelief here more than I want to.
Anyway, this is how in this movie we’re able to see all those PARANORMAL ACTIVITY scenes we’ve come to know and love, scenes of silent rooms in the middle of the night, just waiting for something scary to happen.
And of course the story in this one is about that strange little boy next door, who we assume is Hunter, and the eerie events his presence causes once he’s inside Alex’s house. And that’s it folks. There really isn’t much of a story here. There is a twist, but I was unimpressed.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 is easily the weakest film in the series. I didn’t hate this movie by any means, but I was unsatisfied. Big time. I mean, all the signature “in the middle of the night scenes” are there, but they’re just not that scary this time around.
The ending, which is a bit scary, is quick and over WAY too fast.
I liked the main character Alex, which is a good thing, because she’s in almost every scene of the movie. I thought Kathryn Newton did a great job, and if I’m allowed to say this about a 15 year-old, she’s stunningly beautiful in this movie.
LS: Well, maybe you should wait about three years to say that. (laughs). But you’re right, she’s quite pretty.
MA: Matt Shively is also likeable as her boyfriend Ben, so these two main characters aren’t the problem.
The problem is the story, or lack thereof. The PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies have never had strong stories, but they’ve been fun because they’ve been scary. I didn’t find this one scary at all. The scares just aren’t there, and in a gimmicky movie like this that doesn’t have much of a story, if you don’t have scares, what’s left? The answer is, not much! There just isn’t much to this movie.
Christopher Landon wrote the screenplay, and he also wrote the scripts for the second and third films in this series as well. I think maybe he’s running out of ideas. There are “middle of the night sequences” where nothing seems to happen, and this is the same problem I had with the previous films in the series, especially PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 (2010). You’re waiting there, watching a silent empty room in the middle of the night, and the pay-off is a little boy walking around a room. Come on!
Plus the little boy in this one just isn’t that creepy. I thought the kid in LOOPER (2012) was much creepier!
(The door opens and the little boy from LOOPER enters the room. The boy grimaces, his eyes widen, and he grows red in the face.)
MA: Easy kid! Don’t use your telekinetic powers on us! I was actually complimenting you!
LS: Geez, kid. Give us a break.
BOY: Where’s the bathroom? I have to go. Bad!
MA: It’s down the hall on the left.
BOY: Thanks. (Exits, as he runs down the hall).
LS (calling after him): Next time don’t wait so long!
MA: I had some questions about the story as well. I wanted to know what was actually going on in the house next door to Alex. At one point, she sees a bunch of cars there, and when she goes to investigate in the middle of the night— of course—she finds people there, but she’s frightened and runs away, and so we never learn what’s going on. Now, based upon the events of the prequel, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3, I have a pretty good idea of what’s going on, but this movie might have been scarier had we seen more of those people next door, since we all know they’re not about to win any good neighbor awards! They’re evil! Why would you not make your scary story more about them?
LS: At the same time, it makes sense that she’d get scared and run away. So it is in character.
Most 15-year-old girls wouldn’t challenge people at a neighbor’s house and demand to know more.
MA: Then there’s good old Toby, the friendly neighborhood PARANORMAL ACIVITY demon. He’s not much of a factor in this one. Maybe he’s finally getting camera shy.
LS: Yeah, Toby’s a bit of a letdown this time around.
MA: Alex’s parents aren’t so bright either. In one scene, a knife falls from the ceiling, and her dad, although spooked, doesn’t do anything about it. It’s not like a door swings open. Sometimes a stray draft opens or closes doors. We’re talking about a knife falling from the ceiling. I’d want to know what the hell a knife is doing in the ceiling in the first place!
LS: I kept expecting that knife to drop down and imbed itself in someone’s head.
MA: In an earlier scene, the mom is cutting vegetables with a knife— the same one I assume—she walks away….
LS: Of course it’s the same one. Why do you have to “assume” it?
MA: …we hear the knife swiped up and away—she returns and of course is dumbfounded and wonders where she put the knife. She then walks away and returns with another knife and continues cutting. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a knife disappear into thin air from a kitchen counter on me. I’d be somewhat freaked. I wouldn’t continue cutting my vegetables like nothing had happened.
LS: So you wanted more time wasted with her just standing around, looking for the knife?
MA: No, I wanted her at the very least to ask someone in the house, “Hey, did anyone just take the knife I was using?” Show some concern! Jeesh!
I also have a complaint about Spooky Katie. Does she always have to walk so slowly? It’s like watching a store mannequin. Someone light a firecracker under that woman!
(Outside there is an explosion and a flash of light, followed by a scream.)
I didn’t mean that literally!
VOICE OFF-CAMERA: Sorry!
MA: Also, the very creepy scene shown in the film’s trailer doesn’t appear in this movie. This isn’t the first time this has happened in this series. I remember a similar scary scene shown in the trailer for PARANORMAL ACTIVTY 2 which wasn’t in the film.
LS: This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since way too many trailers give away the complete story of a movie before you see it.
MA: I dunno. It bugs me.
LS: At least these scenes in the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies that don’t appear in the movies are kind of like bonus scenes. But you’re right that this new movie could use all the scares it could get.
MA: This one was directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the same folks who directed PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3. Like their screenwriter Christopher Landon, I think they’re running out of ideas.
All in all, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 is weak horror movie, hardly worth your time. I enjoyed last week’s SINISTER better, as that one disturbed me in a way that this movie doesn’t even come close to doing. Again, I didn’t hate this film, but I sure was underwhelmed.
I give it one and a half knives.
LS: Y’know, we’re actually in complete agreement about this one. This is the Year the Sequels Died. When some of the franchises we’ve come to rely on have run out of steam. I felt the same way about RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION. That was a series I didn’t mind, although it was never rocket science, and I at least found each sequel entertaining. If you have to sit through these movies, you at least want to enjoy yourself a little bit. But the new RESIDENT EVIL movie was so cynical and such an empty example of greed, that it pissed me off. There was absolutely no reason for that sequel to get made except to cash in, and a series I had liked a little bit finally ran out of steam and lost all reason to keep going. (I should have known better when the previous one ended right in the middle of the story, demanding that it “Be Continued.”)
I don’t feel as angry and cheated by PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4.
MA: I agree. I’m not angry about it either.
LS: There are some plot points that push things forward (although not all that many), and lead character Alex is very likeable and you care about her. But overall, Part 4 is pretty flimsy compared to the other movies. I liked this series a lot. They’re not amazing works of art, but they’re fun. And I’ve come to rely on that. But this one really felt like they were phoning it in. Like they were just making a new movie to keep the franchise going. And we really didn’t get enough answers by the end to satisfy us.
What you do with a franchise like this is inject some new blood once in a while. The people who started the movies do not need to keep working on each one. Like Michael said, it’s obvious that these people run out of ideas and start repeating themselves.
If you bring in fresh people and maybe let a franchise go in a new direction, then there’s more of a chance that the audiences might actually feel surprised. It’s a risk, but it’s better than wasting our time.
With PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4, I just think the filmmakers are admitting defeat. Either let someone new take a turn, and take a chance on actually improving on the concept and the series, or just end it here.
Because otherwise you’re just jerking us around and taking our money.
I really wanted to like this one, but I give PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 a rating of one and a half out of five knives, too.
MA: Wow, we agree on something.
LS: That’s a surprise in itself.
MA: And I don’t think we’re alone in not liking this one. I don’t know about the audience you saw the movie with, but the theater I was in, the audience was rather subdued. There weren’t many comments until the last 10 minutes or so.
And when it did end, the woman in the row in front of me said, “That’s it?” My sentiments exactly!
(Suddenly, a big glass chandelier above them crashes down on the floor, just missing them by inches)
MA: Yahh! I’m out of here.
LS: I think Toby is angry with the bad review.
(They run out of the house)
© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 ~ one and a half knives!
L.L. Soares also gives PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 ~ one and a half knives!