Paranormal Activity 4 and the Found Footage Problem

This year saw another installation in the Paranormal Activity series. I will not bemoan the perpetuation of the series. I understand that. They cost virtually no money and the profit margins have been fairly huge. As a business decision, it’s a no brainer.

When writing about the first installment of this series, removing the marketing scheme which was brilliant and the hoopla, I complained it was like a surprise symphony.

I have not given up on the series entirely and what I find odd is that each film has done something, in a particular section of the film, that if removed (as if that were possible) and combined with another section of another installment, would make a whole enjoyable horror film.

The main issue that this series has confronted in the sequels is that it hasn’t broken far enough away from the formula that the initial film established. If one looks at any lengthy horror series almost any of them will have a film that bucks the trend. Now, of course, that could backfire but at least it’s an attempt to shake things up.

What part three does best is have payoffs and a fairly good climax, but the build-up as per usual is fairly mind-numbing. In this recent installation certain motifs and twists are introduced, but it ultimately builds to something we’ve all seen before. Whether you’re a fan of the series or not, it’s not a progressive move.

Even purists couldn’t argue that the Halloween and Friday the 13th series kept trying to up the ante and find new avenues by which to lead into their new tales. What I can give to the first part is that it does catch you off guard, but the set-ups for the very modest scares are are too long, this film at least progressed (to an extent) the visual aesthetic.

Part of the dereliction of the series can be attributed to fear of rocking the boat, but the other part hinges on the found footage element. More often than not the found footage approach is used as a crutch rather than a license, or a challenge, to be more creative.

In four, I was very close to liking it, but they felt beholden to the formula.

Ultimately, how vital either this series or implementation of the found footage technique will be how varied, creative and unique the footage sources are. The image quality can be degraded but an over-abundence of static, uncut images is not modernizing; it’s regression to the advent of sound, if you’ll allow the hyperbole.

Cameras are now ubiquitous accessories, so there is much untrod ground in this series and the approach. It must be trod if found footage is not to die by atrophy.