I watched Paranormal Activity 4 over the weekend and while it was fun to watch, it was definitely the weakest of the series. I don’t think anything can top the first movie, but the second and third were both great in their own right and both contained some really clever ways of frightening the audience and creating tension.
Number 4 though, kinda fell flat. I liked that they evolved to the point where instead of just cameras, the action happened through more contemporary technology like the Kinect sensors as well as Skype and webcams etc. There were a couple of eerie moments like “Katie” reappearing in the weirdo house across the street as well as suddenly appearing in the Kinect sensors. Also I thought this scene was very creepy, especially because it was so calm and subdued:
The greatest frightening moments, in terms of creating a feeling of tension and dread was definitely the kitchen knife disappearing haha.
I felt like they had some really cool ideas, but they didn’t really follow through on anything. I kept expecting some of the devices they used to actually amount to something, but everything sort of coasted along at the same level of tension and atmosphere, until the end, which was exactly like the ending of Paranormal Activity 3 in terms of action and was therefore quite boring and unsatisfying. Like… the cat had no purpose, the cool “garage door open” automatic voice was never used properly, the opening and the shutting of the fridge came to nothing (I would have even preferred the standard horror movie trick of the scary thing appearing suddenly behind the closing door), the Kinect sensors were only used a couple of times in quite tame ways and probably most important of all, the two lead characters eventually stopped checking their recorded footage.
I think part of the success of the first three movies, especially the first, was that the characters, even while perhaps being skeptics in the beginning, had no choice but to believe and be frightened through watching the recorded proof of the events happening to them the morning after. There is just something so creepy about that idea. In 4, this was used only a couple of times, most notably when the creepy kid walks into the main character’s room as she is sleeping and falls asleep next to her, which she watches and gets weirded out by the next day. However, the rest of the time, no one really listens to anyone, especially the parents, and as a result, the creepy things that happen to them are not really that frightening to watch because their reactions are so skeptical right to the end. I liked the relationship between Alex and Ben for that reason, because it was mostly quite natural and they discussed the unexplainable events happening around them and on their recordings, even if they did nothing much about them.
Like remember the amazing use of the rotating camera in Paranormal Activity 3??
Even without the funny and shocking addition of the sheet thing, it just created SO MUCH TENSION. Like I definitely watched through my fingers because it was almost unbearable.
And the awesome and creepy Poltergeist-like goings on in the kitchen of Paranormal Activity 2:
And not to mention the titan of these movies, Paranormal Activity The First, with the horrifying stomping noises, and the staring scenes, which were the first time in a very long time I had felt completely unnerved and legitimately frightened by a horror movie:
I love that all four of the movies rely on using the horror of the unseen to such great effect (and the first two movies also use sound very effectively as well), however number 4 really did feel like it was just one big tease. I can kind of see that they thought they’d maybe push their luck and see how much they can stretch these moments of “nothingness” out, but it didn’t really work. Most of it was just too mundane to reach the breathless eeriness of the earlier films (especially the ending).
However I still really love the contemporary houses and contemporary technology used for these films. While I am a very huge fan of the classic haunted house story, with gothic mansions and mists and mysterious scratching in the walls and other crap, until this series of films, I had never felt the necessity of the haunted house story being updated for modern times. I think that horrible feeling of invasion and wrongness is heightened when set in a space that more people can identify with, rather than some beautiful gargoyle mansion or a lovely old house like in the Amityville Horror. I think the mundane, suburban nature of the houses in the Paranormal Activity series worked really well. I think I’ve said this before but I like that they don’t seem like film sets, but actual houses where someone lives, with cushions and socks and blankets strewn about, and the lack of any curated use of colour or decor. The first movie was filmed in the director’s own house, and although I am too lazy at this moment to google whether the rest were filmed in real houses also, it is enough that they feel that way.
Obviously the houses are only relatable to most people because of their contemporary contents and their banal architecture, not because many people share the same kind of lifestyle, since these characters are all obviously rich. So I kept wondering what a haunted house movie would look like, and how it would function, in a small, less cavernous, less affluent house, and if you could create the same kind of feeling of being hunted down in your own home, with less room to play with.