Stretching the found footage gimmick way more than it deserves, “Paranormal Activity 4” arrives just in time for Halloween.
But fans of the popular series will surely be disappointed with a film that feels as if it’s on autopilot from the opening moments. It’s more dull than frightening.
“Paranormal Activity 4” picks up five years after the second installment with the story shifting to a teenage girl named Alex (Kathryn Newton) who starts experiencing weird stuff when new neighbors move in next door.
Those neighbors wind up being the possessed murderer Katie (Katie Featherston) and a strange little boy named Robbie (Brady Allen), who appears to be the child she abducted when Katie killed her sister and her sister’s husband five years earlier.
As things get stranger and stranger, Alex and her boyfriend, Ben (Matt Shively), start to realize that the strange incidents could in fact be linked to Katie and Robbie, and that Alex and her family might be in danger.
I’m willing to suspend disbelief most of the time when it comes to found footage, but the stuff here feels really contrived. I couldn’t help but ask on several occasions how come no one looked at this stuff and said, “Hey, maybe something is going on here”?
Having the teenage kids as the focus is also a big mistake. Both young actors are fine, but their characters are rather annoying – although not as frustrating as the parents, who seem oblivious to everything going on.
Allen does have a few creepy moments as Robbie, and the addition of infrared footage courtesy of an Xbox is actually kind of interesting. It’s not nearly enough to keep the movie from bogging down tremendously, with directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman appearing to try to fill time until they get to a rather unsatisfying wrap-up. This is so bad, I think even the loyal fan base will find it frustrating.
If you really feel the need to see a Halloween horror film, might I suggest the vastly superior “Sinister.” As for this franchise, I think it’s time to pull the plug.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is the little-seen but interesting “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” (B).
This is one of the oddest hybrids of two genres you’ll ever encounter. It’s part apocalyptic dark comedy, part sensitive romance – with the different tones sometimes tugging at each other within a scene.
Yet it manages to work thanks to a pair of engaging leads (Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley) and writer/director Lorene Scafaria’s uncompromising vision – at least up to a point.
Carrell stars as Dodge, a married insurance salesman suffering the ultimate midlife crisis – with his wife leaving him just as it is announced that an asteroid is heading for Earth and the world will end in three weeks.
Looking to have some sense of closure to his existence, Dodge sets out to find his high school sweetheart. He is joined on his journey by his neighbor Penny (Knightley), also looking for closure to her life.
“Seeking a Friend” starts in a comically dark place, with the asteroid creating some rather bizarre behavior in mankind. There are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments, including a visit to a restaurant that has pretty much given up the corporate rule book.
But once Dodge and Penny get out on the road, this becomes a completely different film, one that delves deeper into the budding friendship between the two main characters.
It’s a slightly predictable bond, but it works because Carrell and Knightley are good in their respective roles and have a believable chemistry. These are two lost souls searching for meaning who start to find comfort in each other.
There are also a handful of clever cameos best left as surprises.
“Seeking” starts so strong that the final half is a slight letdown, especially the last scenes, which feel like they may have been added to appease test audiences.
The result is a romantic comedy with a “Melancholia” spin. Sure, it sounds odd, but its oddness proves to be its charm.
“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is rated R for language including sexual references, some drug use and brief violence, and is available on DVD.