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Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012 04:15 pm

Activity 4 a bore

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Kathryn Newton as Alice in Paranormal Activity 4.

Having racked up serious box office and generally favorable reviews with the first three Paranormal Activity films, the producers of the series have finally gone to the well once too often. The fourth entry proves to be a tepid affair that elicits more snores than scares. While directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman impressed with their first feature, the pseudo-documentary Catfish, and though in Paranormal Activity 4 they follow the template of the first three chapters of the series to a tee, the results are far from effective.

Picking up on a plot thread left dangling from the first film, the story gets off to an improbable start. A family in Nevada gets new neighbors and before long they have taken in the young boy of the clan, Robby (Brady Allen), after his mother is taken to the hospital and it’s found out they have no relatives nearby. To be sure, he’s a weird little, introverted kid, and soon the teenage girl of the family, Alex (Kathryn Newton), notices some odd behavior. Her little brother, Wyatt (Aiden Lovecamp), becomes introverted and ends up spending all of his time with Robby. Inexplicable noises are heard throughout the house and some strange images are seen on video captured on laptops that have been set up around the home by Alex’s boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively).

While the first three entries did a masterful job of building an ever-increasing sense of dread, this film simply plods along and never catches fire. Newton and Shively do a fine job creating characters that hold our interest, yet they do so in the service of a script that contains nary a new idea and struggles to generate any suspense. What Robby and Wyatt are up to really isn’t all that interesting and as a result the movie falls into a repetitious cycle. Alex and Ben look at some video, comment on how odd it is – which it really isn’t – and wait for the next occurrence. This is a far cry from the initial trilogy, all of which grabbed us early and steadily built a nearly unbearable sense of suspense. This time out, I spent more time checking the time than shielding my eyes.

The bulk of the blame must be laid at the feet of screenwriters Christopher Landon and Chad Feehan who commit far too many narrative gaffes to be excused. While there’s a neat little homage to The Shining, there are so many red herrings in the script that they become predictable, and the film’s big reveal makes no sense at all. Meanwhile, the inevitable finally happens. The approach of using first person point-of-view video jumps the shark in the film’s third act. We’re expected to believe that when Alex is in peril and ends up running for her life, that she goes to the trouble of grabbing a camera in order to record her plight. It simply doesn’t wash, and the movie segues from tedious to ridiculous in the blink of an eye.

This is all too bad as the Paranormal films were at the forefront of the horror genre’s recent swing toward old-school chills and thrills. However, it’s obvious that this series has run its course, and here’s hoping that bad box office – the only thing that can truly put the final nail in a franchise’s coffin – puts this once effective series permanently to rest.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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