(On DVD, March 2017) I’m as surprised as anyone else by the fact that I still like the Paranormal Activity series even at its fifth instalment, long after nearly everyone else has given up on it. The Marked Ones, to be fair, consciously sets out to do something different with the premise: Largely set within the Los Angeles Latino community, it features two characters held at arms-length from the events of the first four movies, and plays with the mythology in entertaining ways that nonetheless destroy any hope that it will all hang together in the end. But never mind: The Marked Ones is far more interesting when it spends time with its teenage protagonist, balancing joy and horror as his life is thrown upside down. Far more YouTubeish than the previous entries in the series, The Marked Ones nonetheless manages to be relatively fun, especially as a fifth entry in the series. The cultural context makes it more interesting than others (at least to me, given that I’m not exposed to the Californian Latino culture very much) and while the answers of the series aren’t coming, at least there are a few good set-pieces along the way.
(On DVD, March 2017) If you had been waiting for a true sequel to the first Paranormal Activity, then this fourth instalment almost delivers it. Fittingly enough for a series with a mythology as chaotic as this one, Paranormal Activity 4 picks up five years after the first one, through the viewpoint of a teenage girl who starts noticing strange things in her neighborhood. A murderous convent obviously show up in time, but not before a strange young boy and a ghostly presence. Paced more aggressively than its predecessors (with plenty of spooky moments throughout), this fourth instalment also feels a bit tighter. The use of webcams and a Kinect feels inspired, while Kathryn Newton makes for a sympathetic lead. It ends much like the previous volume, but there are a few chills and thrills along the way. This being said, I don’t think Paranormal Activity 4 has much to offer to those who aren’t already fans of the series … but then again, so it goes for horror series in general. I’m still reacting well to this franchise’s instalments, and part of it has to do with how they’re not glorifying the monster … at least not yet. On the other hand, I’m increasingly unsure that the series mythology will cohere into anything satisfying by the time they’ll milk the last drop out of it.
(On DVD, February 2017) Boldly stepping back in time, Paranormal Activity 3 takes the found-footage conceit to the VHS era, presenting the formative childhood experiences of the sisters at the heart of the first two movies. Not stepping too far away from the tried-and-true methodology of the series so far, this follow-up does have a few canny new tricks up its sleeve. While some are obvious (the moment the oscillating camera is set up is the moment when we can anticipate the shocks it will deliver), the expansion of the mythology is also interesting, even though by the time the story wraps up we’re starting to predict how none of the male characters will make it out of the movie alive. On the other hand, that finale is quite a bit more intense than the quick bursts of violence at the end of the first two movies, so it feels as if the series is getting more ambitious with time. There really isn’t much else to say here. As usual for a film of this series, the acting is fair at best (although Lauren Bittner is probably the strongest lead of the series so far), the cinematography is muddy and the pacing is predictable. Still, despite the well-worn mechanics of the series premise, Paranormal Activity 3 is not a waste of time, and holds up enough new things to keep it interesting.
(On DVD, February 2017) I was a surprisingly vocal fan of the first Paranormal Activity (which I saw in theatres), yet couldn’t be bothered to keep track of the subsequent series. But a cheap series DVD anthology can work wonder at sharpening my resolve, and so it is that I’m now on my way to watch the entire series. In a way, the lengthy pause between seeing the first and second film may have worked to its advantage, given how closely Paranormal Activity 2 tries to ape and one-up its predecessor. The central conceit remains more or less untouched despite more complicated family dynamics, and the rhythm is more or less the same as well: a lengthy build-up with more and more paranormal activities occurring, all the way to a violent-and-abrupt conclusion. Paranormal Activity 2 certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel, and if “more of the same with a bigger budget” was the goal, then it’s been thoroughly accomplished. Not bad, not good, just the same thing once again.