If there is one law, one rule that film studios will always, always abide by it is that if a film makes money, no matter how bad that film is, then there is potential for a franchise. To put it another way, if someone offered you a guaranteed return of $138 million (at time of writing) on an outlay estimated at less than $5 million you’d be mad not to go for it wouldn’t you?
For the 4th episode in Paranormal Activity saga we have a whole new family. There is mum and dad, who aren’t worth worrying too much about, and two children Wyatt and his older sister Alex (Kathryn Newton). Also in the mix is Alex’s boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively). Anyway, their idyllic homelife is interrupted by the arrival in the neighbourhood of Katie (Katie Featherstone) and her “son” Robbie. As we know Katie from the previous films we immediately suspect strange events are about to start happening all over the place but here she is absent for the majority of the opening acts and the creepiness is left to Robbie to generate as he moves in with our family while she is away.
As well as the usual inexplicable use of hand held cameras we have webcams and a strange grid apparently projected by the Wii and only visible when recorded in the dark. Kathryn and Ben spend the majority of there time communicating by webcam and she is at first offended upon discovering he records her sleeping until they discover the strange Robbie getting into bed with her. Following that discovery our paranormal sleuths set up laptops all over the house hoping to catch some footage and it isn’t long before the expected sinister events begin to happen.
So, is Paranormal Activity any good? Is the found footage genre dead or still alive and well?
Well, confusingly the answer is yes and no. To give an idea of where I’m coming from I quite enjoyed the 1st film, although while creepy I didn’t think it was very scary. The 2nd was a little dull until the final act but relied more on jump cuts than tension building to grab the audience’s attention. For this film the tension building has almost gone but we have many, many more jump cuts. To me this is lazy filmmaking. There is a half decent idea here that had been largely ignored in favour of simply trying to frighten the viewer with tried and tested formulaic tricks. As a result the audience is becoming somewhat immune as they have seen them all before and are just simply waiting to see them again. The law of diminishing returns must surely apply.
The direction isn’t worth commenting on particularly as it is all fixed camera but the editing style is exactly the same as the other films so you know what to expect. The cast are fine if uninspiring but, with the exception of Alex and Ben who try and instill a little excitement into the weak script, are generally dull and fail at the single thing they must succeed at; they mustn’t look like they’re actors!
By this instalment the producers also seem to have given up explaining why everything must be filmed and the use of a hand held camera is now simply the norm. Surely if you’re being pursued by what you consider to be a bloodthirsty demon then dropping the camera and running for your life is preferable over ensuring you have a good shot of it.
To be fair the person I watching this with jumped a few times, but she did attribute that to tiredness rather than the quality of the scares. There is obviously a market for these films as the box office figures demonstrate, and I don’t think that the found footage genre should be discounted altogether. But if we’re going to have more of these films then there must be some originality, something different other than the same old list to tick off. In short, disappointing but millions of us will watch it anyway.