The only thing that will really matter for most of the horror film fans willing to pay for tickets to see the fourth “Paranormal Activities” movie, which is currently in general release, is whether or not the movie will shock them. I don’t think it will.
At one point fairly late in this routine film, the audience was laughing at one of the film’s three or four briefly-depicted murders. It was not supposed to be funny. I’m sure the film’s two directors (two, as if this were an animated movie) think the quick killing will surprise us. Shock us. Frighten us.
But those of us in the theater weren’t laughing out of surprise. We were laughing because the way the guy died was comic, goofy, clumsy. And maybe we were laughing a little because we’d had it with the long stalls in action which are used over a over to set up brief spurts of event.
What’s actually interesting about the movie is the innocent romance going on inside the Spielberg reality of the suburban Nevada home where almost all the action takes place. But the movie doesn’t want to be about the romance. it wants to be about its own point of view experiment. The Paranormal Activities movies were among the first to make use of the moving-hand-held camera technique made popular by “Blair Witch Project.”
In its purest form, this technique shows the audience only what appears in the lens of a single video camera. “PA4” uses at least four cameras, three of them run constantly by a computer program. Those three are set up in the house by the twelve-year-old couple, a little blonde and her free-loading, fridge raiding beau.
They spend all their time “video conferencing” with each other and see some spooky things on her laptop’s camera, a camera they leave running all night, apparently so he can look in on her while she sleeps. The spooky things have to do with a new neighbor, lonely Robbie, a six-year-old. He stalks the family.
Blondie’s brother is also six, and when Robbie’s evil mother disappears, Blondie’s good mother invites Robbie to stay with her family. Now Good Ma is having marital troubles with her lumpish hubby. Divorce is mentioned, though one can barely make out what the characters are saying as the sound, unlike the images, does actually seem to have been recorded by a home Flip camera.
Ticketholders get to watch lengthening stretches of one of three kinds of shots of inactivity in the family home. One kind is video recorded through the computer, often taken from a laptop camera which Blondie drags around with her most places she goes. A second kind is the same but with footage taken in the dark. The lack of lighting is suggested here by the broadcasting of small dots onto the images. This usually isn’t very convincing looking.
The fourth kind of image is taken by a better camera handled by someone who can keep it steady and focused on the action. But we never know who this camera man is or why all the other characters aren’t remarking on his presence in their scenes.
So we’ll see on screen titles and time codes that suggests the filming took place on the tenth night at 3:11 a.m., or something like that. We see Blondie sleeping. We see one of the six-year-olds get up. We see them walk downstairs. Then, if we aren’t bored to sleep, we hear a loud thump, as if a cardboard box of severed hands was being dropped on an Armstrong suspended ceiling. Then the film goes into another stall.
As it turns out, we eventually find out what the movie thinks is scary looking. I don’t think most horror film fans will agree it is scary. And seeing it certainly isn’t worth hanging around for a couple of hours, watching footage of a messy suburban home.