By Tim Posada, 10/25/2012
“Paranormal Activity 4”
Love it or hate it, the “Paranormal Activity” franchise shows no signs of letting up. Usually the fourth installment marks the kiss of death for any film series, with few remarkable exceptions (Ethan Hunt got much better with age in “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol”). Sadly, “Paranormal” is a little too normal this time around. The series reached its jolting peak in the first sequel, though the second sequel provided some fascinating back story, and some quite notable scares.
After a one-film break in between, “PA4” finally picks up where “PA2” left off, but does as little as possible to move the story forward. Rather than answering questions that have been stewing for more than three years, this is a bleak portrayal of things to come. In short, it’s a whole lot of too little.
It’s been several years since Katie (Katie Featherston) became possessed by that pesky demon in the first film and kidnapped her nephew, Hunter, in the second –– and we found out Katie’s grandma and a legion of witches are somehow behind it all. Jumping to some random suburb in a seemingly unrelated story, meet Alex (Kathryn Newton).
Ever since the neighbor’s kid, Robbie (Brady Allen) started showing up, some paranormal activities have been occurring. Robbie is a strange child who enjoys making cryptic references to his invisible friend and spending most evenings talking with his unseen Casper around 3 a.m. Alex gets some small glimpses of a growing threat, but nobody believes the innocent high school student.
The previous “PAs” felt much more mature, both in cinematic creativity and casting choices. Replacing young adults with tweens, “PA4” focuses on two high schoolers, Alex and her kinda-sorta boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively). Each film also includes a unique approach to the found-footage formula, like attaching the camera to a rotating house fan. The only creative idea here is the effect an Xbox Kinect creates when the lights are off. In one fell swoop, everything fun about these films transforms into business as usual. Even worse, it’s just not scary.
After a terrible attempt at remaking “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, horror film director Scott Derrickson returns to what he does best with “Sinister”. This is good old demon haunting as it should be. It only provides a modest amount of jumps, but the anticipation is killer and the vibe is about as creepy as an episode of “American Horror Story” (that’s another good way to celebrate Halloween).
True crime author Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) isn’t the best husband or father, and his writing career is on its last leg. In a final effort to save his waning reputation, he moves his family into the house/scene of the crime of his latest unsolved murder project. But Ellison ignores all the red flags when he finds a box of Super 8 films featuring the murder of five families, including the group hanging in his new backyard. But how are all these murders related since they occurred more than 30 years apart? And why does the same masked figure appear in each video? And, oh wait, is that him in Ellison’s backyard? Then his attic? Whoever said watching old films is harmless clearly hasn’t seen any from the ancient demon, Bughuul, or “Mr. Boogie” to his younger fans.
Derrickson peaked with his freshmen big screen release, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”, a demon possession flick that was both thoughtful and wildly frightening due to its sense of realism. “Sinister” has a much more modest plot: your classic obsessive father who stumbles on to an unexpected evil that slowly turns Pops mad. But like “Emily Rose”, “Sinister” has a longer shelf life than most found-footage, slasher or ghost stories. Come the final jarring moment, you’ll be left wondering what it all meant ––debating it with friends. And if you’re a horror junky (present company most definitely included), what is left is a mixture of horror-anxiety and new hope in what can easily be misconstrued as a stale genre.
Hats off to composer Christopher Young for creating perhaps the most memorable score in any horror film. This is the new sound of horror, may other genre films please take note and apply accordingly.
“Sinister” is one of the few horror delights that reminds me how much fun films can be when they establish a theme and follow it through. Bughuul might now make the costume list next to Leatherface or Jason, and this is all just creepy, creepy, creepy. The moral of the story: don’t watch Super 8s if they’re not yours.