A couple of Latino teens in California (Andrew Jacobs and Jorge Diaz) are goofing around with a video camera by sneaking it into the air vent to spy on a neighbour. They see the rather shapely woman completely naked and engaging in…hell, they don’t even really know, but it looks bizarre. When something drastic happens to the neighbour, the boys sneak into her apartment and look around, finding all kinds of crazy occult stuff. The next morning, Jacobs wakes up with some kind of mark on his arm. And it’s not long before his behaviour starts to change…not to mention he seems to have the ability to levitate, a bit like the characters in “Chronicle”. Whatever is going on with Jacobs, it’s up to Diaz and their female friend Gabrielle Walsh to find out and save him.
This is insane. The first “Paranormal Activity” was one of the better ‘found footage’ films out there, but the second one was awful, and the third even worse. Then along came the fourth, which was an anomaly…it was actually not bad at all. Now comes this 2014 film only tangentially related to any of the previous films, and it’s…also not bad at all. Written and directed by Christopher Landon (son of Michael, and screenwriter of all previous films in the series), I think “Paranormal Activity 4” has a slight edge on this one, and I think it really only perks up towards the end, where it becomes rather intense and scary. Scenes like a character pulling hair out of their eyeball (!) are particularly scary to me because it’s so bizarre, insane, and hard to explain rationally.
My main problem with this film is that it seems to take longer than most of these films to really get going, and I became restless. Some of the first half of the film is interestingly creepy, some of it is just goofing around, and a lot of it is filler. These characters being Latino makes them different than most horror characters, but not necessarily interesting. Their “Jackass” hijinks annoyed the hell out of me. But once this thing gets going, it really hits its stride, and at least it’s mostly telling its own story. Even when it ties things into the earlier films I didn’t mind because a) It’s 95% its own story (or at least more “Open Water” than “Paranormal Activity”), and thus seemingly more fresh, and b) I didn’t find the tie-ins terribly lumpy or showing the seams. Besides, Molly Ephraim is cute and I’ll have nothing bad said about her.
Lead actors Andrew Jacobs and Jorge Diaz seem a little too camera friendly for something pretending to be real, and their “Jackass” shenanigans ate up too much time for me. For the most part they seemed far too ‘on’ all of the time. It’s a fine line, but if you’re gonna make this kind of ‘pseudo-doco’ film, you need actors who can come across as natural. However, actress Gabrielle Walsh is really cute, and along with a scene-stealing (but underused) Renee Victor as Jacobs’ frankly awesome and hilarious grandmother they walk off with the film. I definitely hope to see more of Ms. Walsh in the future, she really has something. Jacobs actually gets more interesting as the film goes on, as his character starts to turn into a better version of James Brolin in “The Amityville Horror”. The camerawork here is good enough not to make me seasick, but bad enough that it doesn’t look phony and professional. So well-done there.
Starts slow, but it improves and becomes quite intense, scary and interesting. Mostly telling its own story before eventually connecting the dots proves a good strategy, but I've become sick of these films that make you wait until the last 15 minutes for the film to really kick in. Once you've seen the trick already, you really need some interesting characters to stop you from twiddling your thumbs after that.