Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Remember the ‘Saw’ franchise? It used to rule at Halloween and other horror films would just get out of its way. The gory, baroque horror series, where a psychopath custom designed bizarre contraptions for his victims, eventually ran out of steam as audiences grew tired of it.
Well, the same appears to be happening to the successor of the Halloween scream-fest. The ‘Paranormal Activity’ series, whose low-key and bloodless horror, relying on creepy sounds, slamming doors and enough surveillance cameras to make an MRT station security officer happy, has managed to rule Halloween box-office for the past few years, but if the US box-office takings are any indication, it seems that audiences are getting tired of the formula.
Still, judging from the screams and gasps from the preview audience, the latest instalment of the series still possesses the ability to give audiences some scares.
After jumping back to the past in PA3, we're now in contemporary times again. Alex (Kathryn Newton), the heroine of the film, lives in suburban Nevada with her parents and brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp). Their next door neighbour turns out to be Katie (Katie Featherston), the demon possessed baddie of the franchise, who has a creepy, robotic kid named Robbie (Brady Allen).
When Katie is injured and ends up in hospital, possibly trying to levitate the dining room table again, Robbie is taken in by Alex's parents. Too bad being a good Samaritan does not bring any returns. Paranormal things start happening in their house, and Alex's good friend Ben (Matt Shively), who creepily watches Alex sleep, sets up video cameras all around the house to capture footage of the strange forces.
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Now, if only Alex could figure out how to access the footage. She might have seen herself getting levitated, a kitchen knife being swiped and Katie, who appears to have taught Robbie how to stand around creepily, turn up like she teleported into the house.
Filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman conduct a workman-like effort, offering pretty much the same scares that the previous instalments have offered, with a few new contraptions thrown in. Still, there's nothing quite as original as the rotating fan that they had in PA3. The main gimmick this time around are the green dots thrown by the XBOX360 Kinect (can you say product placement?), which show that Robbie's invisible playmate might actually be real.
It is a pity that the filmmakers did not try harder to make this film more original or deviate from the formula. The movie starts out well with a sense of humour. Soon, as fake shocks are trotted out, any attempt at originality is thrown out like mouldy VHS tapes. The filmmakers initially rely on long static shots that would make a Taiwanese filmmaker proud, though things start getting chaotic when the camera is jumbled around as Alex starts getting running around. If you're sensitive to motion sickness, you should know that this film really isn't for you.
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The movie lumbers around as the number of odd things happening start increasing in number and scale, and you can only wait for the filmmakers to dispatch the various participants. The photogenic Alex is the only person that comes across as three-dimensional. Her parents won't listen to her when she thinks there's something really bad about Robbie, not even when a chandelier comes crashing down in one scene.
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After a while, Joost and Schulman stop really trying, and just bring out the usual bunch of scares that we've seen from previous films. If you're hoping for more about the witch's coven angle revealed in the previous three films, you'll be disappointed, as there's little new that is revealed here.
Despite that, one has to admit that the scares can still get the screams, helped by a low rumbling soundtrack that makes you want to take a Panadol. Don't ask too much of ‘Paranormal Activity 4’, and it pretty much gives back what previous editions have offered. Undoubtedly, there'll be yet another one next Halloween, all ready to hand out the same box of tricks.
Travis Wong is a film loving geek who got his start from frequenting video shops in JB. He frequented movie theaters more often than school, and received his cinematic epiphany when he watched 'Taxi Driver'. While not driving a cab, he haunts DVD shops, and he currently has the largest remaining collection of VHS tapes and Laserdiscs in the country.