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Watch This Instead > Paranormal Activity 4 | WTI Text Edition
mike | 19 Oct 2012 | 502 Views | 1 Likes | 0 Dislikes
Paranormal Activity 4 | WTI Text Edition
There’s no ongoing film series that so directly speaks to that uncomfortable crossover point between film as entertainment and film as business than producer Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity franchise. The series, whose fourth iteration is out today, follows an absolutely rigid formula: 90 minutes of lo-fi jump-scares manufactured out of “found” documentary footage of a poltergeist’s activity recorded by a different family.
They’re reliably scary, having won a not-insignificant cadre of pretty devoted fans. They’re also reliably… the same, with each version offering maybe one or two microscopic innovations and then just letting the ghosts on video do their thing, lest the directors upset Peli’s extremely lucrative apple cart.
Because that’s the other thing: just as Peli found a formula for crafting predictably spooky cinema, he also found as sure a formula for turning ten cents into thirty thousand dollars as exists in modern business period, let alone the business of cinema: the B.O. return for the first three films are 1293333%, 5900% and 4120%, respectively. Think about that.
If you found a formula to turn the gum on the bottom of your shoe into a giant box filled with Cristal champagne and jewels that’d make the Queen flinch, would you mess with it? Hell no you wouldn’t.
And thus the fundamentally frustrating thing about Paranormal Activity 4.
Its formula, the one that cranks out scares and cash in not quite equal measure, is followed with ruthless efficiency. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, whose innovation in PA3 was a panning camera strapped to an oscillating house fan, here come up with a handful of spooky shots that incorporate a green IR-dot-stippled living room, and they’re spooky enough. But we, and the teens that anticipate each October’s PA flick the way they’d waited for actual Halloween ten years earlier in their lives, have seen pretty much this exact same stuff three other times now, IR dots be damned. There’s nothing new, really. Which surprisingly only makes the film a tiny percentage less scary than it should be, due to how fundamentally sound PA’s scare-factory tactics are. And really, expecting the fourth film to be any different than you’d expect is like expecting the bank to just start handing cash out for free one day: that a Paranormal Activity film will be like the one previous is as sound a fiscal law as exists on Earth.
So, if you’re seeking variety over the warmish comfort of rigid spooky familiarity, watch something else, instead.
Ridley Scott’s Prometheus debuted earlier this summer to equal parts adulatory reviews and massive disappointment. I’m not generally prone to arguing with people that haven’t liked something—it’s too much like arguing that no, atomic chicken wing’s taste great, not bad—but that’s what I’m going to uncomfortably do in this case.
Expectations were, understandably, incredibly high for Scott’s return to the Alien franchise, especially from folks who weirdly drew a line marked "art" in the sand between Scott’s first film, Alien, and its subsequent much-shootier much-actionier sequels.
Prometheus, to some, I think, was hopefully going to be a work of grand philosophic, cosmic importance. It wasn’t – and it wasn’t even close, really.
What it was was a fantastically gorgeous, goofy sci-fi horror movie, with a handful of IR-dot-stippled jaw-dropping visual tropes and a handful of hair-raising horror scenes. It’s fantastically enjoyable on a visceral level (if not on a philosophic one), and if you’ve seen it already and been disappointed, watch it again while thinking “this, exactly like Paranormal Activity 4, is a film designed to make money”, then, turn your brain off and enjoy. It’s scary and filled with the kind of innovative visuals that populate three or four percent of PA4’s shots, even if it’s just a stupid sci-fi flick. Stupid sci-fi flicks are great, dude.