a theatre, film & pop culture review
The original Paranormal Activity cost a mere $11,000 to make. With its so-simple-it’s-brilliant premise (thank you, Blair Witch for setting the jerky, handheld camera precedence), we watched, via the lens of a camcorder strapped to a tripod, the nightly terrors experienced by a young San Diegoian couple. Writer-director Oren Peli scared the beejesus out of audiences with his jump cuts; extreme, oppressive close-ups, creakily opening doors and distant bumps in the night.
The interim between movies 1 and 4 saw very little change in form and casting: dark hallways; swift, shapeless forms and PA regular Katie Featherstone were all accounted for. But Peli largely disappeared, staying on only as producer and allowing for a variety of writers and directors to get their horror hijinks on in his absence. This time around, it’s those darned Catfish guys, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, helming the fright-fest with all the suspense-building, cinematic tricks of a good pseudo-documentary (and they would know). The scare tactics might be predictable by now, but somehow they still make you jump — while also managing a nice homage to horror classic The Shining.
Unfortunately, writer Christopher Landon (who scripted 2-4) lacks Peli’s knack for character, not to mention his clarity of story. PA4 ends on as much of a “huh?” note as PA3, but thankfully we’ve got the charming Kathryn Newton and Matt Shively as teen sweethearts Alex and Ben who set-up computer surveillance all over the house to keep an eye on weirdo-kid Robbie (Brady Allen). His mom (Katie Featherstone) mysteriously gets sick and leaves Robbie in the care of Alex’s family across the street; shenanigans ensue as the little creeper, in his cropped pants and sandal-socks, silently stares at a sleeping Alex, bolts down dark hallways at 3 AM and generally “prepares” Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp), Alex’s young, adopted brother, by drawing funny, cult-ish shapes on his back and introducing him to his “imaginary” friend who, for some bizarre reason, resides in the family’s xbox. Needless to say, the bickering parents (Sprague Grayden and Stephen Dunham) are worthless: disbelieving of Alex’s frantic declarations of what’s happening, they are entirely superfluous — and you can imagine how that works out for them in the end.
PA4 cost $5 million to make — an astounding fact considering not only its lack of innovation and snazzy special effects, but also its limited audience. Folks either bought, and continue to buy into, the long-running premise, or they don’t; this franchise isn’t going to gain a new audience at this point. But if PA’s scare tactics had you up at all hours with the lights on, chances are you’ll still get a kick — and a scare or five — from this latest installment.
And in case there was any doubt, this isn’t the last we’ll see of Katie and her creepy prodigy.
Opened October 19, 2012 nationwide.
Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman; written by Christopher Landon, based on a story by Chad Feehan and the film “Paranormal Activity” by Oren Peli; director of photography, Doug Emmett; edited by Gregory Plotkin; production design by Jennifer Spence; costumes by Leah Butler; produced by Jason Blum and Mr. Peli; released by Paramount Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes.
WITH: Katie Featherston (Katie), Kathryn Newton (Alex), Matt Shively (Ben), Aiden Lovekamp (Wyatt), Brady Allen (Robbie) and Stephen Dunham (Doug).