He Doesn't Like You Watching Us: Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)

For someone who might have either actually read this blog since its inception, or happens to have trolled through all the posts I have made, will know that I am a huge supporter of the original Paranormal Activity film, citing it both as one of the major works in the horror genre, while also defending it as one of the best films of the year of its release.  Now, since then, I have managed to keep up with the franchise, not counting its foreign spin-offs, although I plan to hunt them down eventually and while I did not blog about them due to time restraints, or more likely a lack of an internet source during their respective viewings, I have decided to return to this film, for what I thought would be the final installment in the series, but as I have come to realize there is purportedly a fifth film in the works, one that seems to be focused n a family of color, which is both revolutionary in terms of sub-genre horror filmmaking, but also ripe with the possibilities of poorly executed narrative.  Either way, Paranormal 4 is a moderately successful addition to the franchise, paling in comparison to the original and falling short of the VHS based restrictions of the third film, but certainly trumping the second film which is outright the least realized of the series.  Here, in what begins to be an obvious set up for the next film, viewers are rushed through a narrative that is at times genuinely scary, but still wraps together far too quickly and manages to build upon nothing established in the first films, aside from the continual connections of one character.  The tricks are minimal and aside from a rather visually stunning use of the Xbox Kinect sensors playing heavily into the plot this was a surprisingly simple and predictable entry into the series.  This is particularly a shame since the extra heavy reliance on digital here in this film could have provided for a new level of paranormal invasion, perhaps even a complete destruction on the panoptic, surveillance like look at the movement of evil through a fractured household.  Paranormal Activity is certainly not a bad film, I was thoroughly scared throughout, but in the same sense I was always aware of how uninspired this film proved to be.

Paranormal Activity 4 begins by showing the through line of all the films Katie (Katie Featherson) playing with her infant nephew, whose name in the earlier film is Hunter, also showing her stealing the child before a card explains that the two remain missing to the point where this narrative jumps off.  The film now beginning on October 31st of 2011 looks at the life of a family, most specifically the daughter Alex (Kathryn Newton) who is attempting to deal with the fracturing relationship of her parents Doug (Stephen Dunham) and Holly (Alexondra Lee) while also proving a decent big sister to her younger brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp).  Furthermore, Alex is also interested in a neighborhood boy named Ben (Matt Shively) despite his rather obvious one-track mind and the condemnation of his presence by her parents.  When new neighbors move in however, things get a bit unusual when the young boy Robbie (Brady Allen) begins showing up inexplicably at their house at all times of night, first scaring Alex when he appears in the corner of their tree house late at night.  What follows is far more disturbing, when after an accident Robbie stays with the family for an extended period of time.  It is during this time that unusual events occur, things such as weird spectral presences emerging, or Wyatt and Robbie staring blankly for hours before talking to what appears to be nothing.  It is not until chandeliers begin nearly killing Alex, or knives that had gone missing begin falling from the ceiling that the remainder of the family takes notice.  However, at this point, Wyatt has become fully involved with the entity that has invaded their house, a small child that is indeed captured on the laser projection.  When attempting to uncover truth about the events, at the neighbors home, Alex runs into Katie who begins inquiring about Wyatt and his well-being.  This moment leads to Wyatt explaining that he is actually named Hunter, an issue that when brought up by Alex to her parents leads to them chastising her inquiries as being in bad taste, and when she has a final traumatic encounter with the paranormal while her parents are at dinner, things become irreversible as her mother and Ben are attack while she is at dinner with her father, upon returning and discovering the problem, she quickly runs to the neighbors home, only to find things far more disturbing than she could have imagined.

If, as I suggested, the first film is about the fall out of a relationship between two people played out as a metaphor of paranormal haunting, then this the fourth film is the first to truly look at how such a extended issue might affect a child.  Alex is a person suffering from finding an identity and certainty in the face of her parents failing marriage, always hyper aware of how things might affect the sensitive Wyatt, but also using this protection to mask her own insecurities, which are played out rather brilliantly in her relationship to Ben, one that is awkwardly sexualized, but never one of forced consummation.  It is clear that she is initially hesitant to embrace Ben, because he does not support her fears regarding the paranormal invasion of her house, or by extension understand her suffering at the sight of her parents fighting.  With this in mind, it is interesting to see how things shift when Ben is made aware of the reality of the paranormal, or by extension comes to understand the tense relationship between Doug and Holly and is particular witness to the incredibly unhealthy relationship between Wyatt and Robbie.  In fact, the invasion of Robbie into the space of the film, also takes on a shade of the metaphoric as many relationships attempt to fix their domestic issues by adding a child to the equation, here, as is usually the result, the act fails miserably.  The metaphor goes to the somewhat implausible by making it result in incredibly violent events, but this does serve as a nice parallel to the traumas faced by children born into such divisive households, ones where argument and anger prevail out over mild temperament and well-reasoned dialogue.  One could read Alex as the figure capable of doing precisely this, however, her inability to speak against the emotive is double through her being incapable of proving the presence of the paranormal to her skeptical and detached parents, each having their own mocking indifference to her concerns, perhaps because they refuse to validate the existence of the paranormal, or, more likely, because they are far too preoccupied with their own marital sufferings to create a space of dialogue for Alex and Wyatt.  As such, Alex finds herself forced to be a maternal figure to her younger brother a burden that weighs heavily upon her and is evidence very intensely in the last few seconds of the film.

Key Scene:  The real surprise her is how well Brady Allen, the child actor playing Robbie, delivers his performance.  Usually creepy kids rely on looks alone, but when Robbie stares into the camera in this film, it is all the more intense by Allen's great delivery.

This is on Netflix in both an R and unrated version, I am uncertain as to the difference in the two, perhaps a few less boob-based pieces of dialogue.  Either way, watch this and the other films in the franchise, which I believe are all currently available for streaming.

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