The standard for horror movies over the last decade has been a gorefest. Films like “Saw,” “Hostel” and others put carnage before plot on most occasions.
Then again, you also should not be thinking a film like “The Hills Have Eyes” should be on the same artistic level as “The Departed.” Horror movies and their makers pride themselves on going as far as they want with corny killers, lead actors whose talent stops at screaming and campy demises. But the horror genre has been trying to find something new to scare people in the theatres with for many years, and it seemed to strike gold in 2007 with the first “Paranormal Activity” film.
Made with only a $15,000 dollar budget and eight actors in the entire film (three were not featured in the credits), the building of tension and suspense throughout the movie made audiences shiver. Its final scene made for one of the scariest movie scenes in recent memory. Audiences demanded to see the buzz-worthy film, which eventually earned over $190 million at the U.S. box office.
From there, an array of sequels were expected, but would they be any good? The fourth installment keeps the scare factor as high as the original.
The film opens with the final scene of “Paranormal Activity 2” where original paranormal victim and demonically possessed Katie (Katie Featherson) kills her sister and abducts her nephew, Hunter, in 2006. Fast-forward five years later, we meet Alex (Kathryn Newton), her younger brother Wyatt, her mom and her dad.
They are a simple family in a plain town, except for their younger neighbor Robbie (Brady Allen), who happens to climb up to their playhouse in the middle of the night. When Robbie’s mother is mysteriously hospitalized, Alex’s family takes in Robbie for a while.
Robbie and Wyatt become nearly inseparable friends. But something does not feel right. Alex hears thumps in the night and Robbie has an imaginary friend that makes threats against Alex.
Out of concern for her and her family, Alex has her friend Ben (Matt Shively) keep cameras running within her family’s laptops to see what goes on when everyone sleeps. She sees what Robbie does at night: sneaking out to talk to his imaginary friend and telling Wyatt that he should meet him. Things start to disappear, chandeliers and knives fall around the family, the bumps in the night get louder and Wyatt does not feel the same as he did before he met Robbie.
Now if you are looking for excellence in screenwriting, cinematography, music, set or costume design, go see “Argo,” “Looper,” or “The Master.” Horror movies, especially “Paranormal Activity,” are not looking for critical praise from anyone. They are just here to scare you to death, preferably through the old-school form of making you jump in your seat and telling the character on-screen, “DON’T GO IN THAT ROOM!” or “TURN AROUND YOU IDIOT!” What makes “Paranormal Activity” scary is the constant tension it builds with simply showing a room. There is no music in the background nor are there any stressed camera angles (except, of course, when Alex is running frantically with a video camera). The audience just has to wait for the ghost to come out. Another great thing “Paranormal Activity 4” does is that it makes the audience look around for anything that moves or stops moving. It is the horror movie equivalent to “I Spy,” except this is supposed to make your skin crawl. But sometimes, it falls flat. Although the film serves up the possibility of another sequel, there are still things that were left to be ignored. But you are not really supposed to look for what’s missing in the film. Just sit back and make sure your nerves are in check, because you will lose them many times in this scarefest.