Paranormal Activity 4 is a touching allegory about an struggles of the of the deaf-mute, the torment and frustration of trying to communicate to a world that seems dead-set to ignore and misunderstand you.
Or it is about some super-WASP family that is being haunted or something and the reason none of them can take a few seconds to listen to each other or check out any of the recorded footage of the crazy supernatural shit going on is because it would end the movie then and there.
OK, maybe I'm being a little hostile.
I'm not a big fan of horror movies like Paranormal Activity and I knew that going in. It would be churlish of me to act betrayed or pretend like the movie let me down. This is the fourth film in a genre series, you should know what to expect - creepy stuff caught while nobody is looking, monsters suddenly darting into frame, and shaky cam earthquake vision as would-be filmographers run for their lives from demon-babies. If you like that kind of thing, Paranormal Activity 4 certainly provides it.
I won't be a dick and deny that the scares work. There is something about the forced perspective, the immediacy of the action, that even when you know it's a cheap effect, you can't keep your heart-rate from climbing as the tension mounts or prevent the embarrassing jump when spooky stuff suddenly happens. The movie forces you into an intimate spectator role, but strips you of any kind of agency or power, it's uncomfortable. No matter how bad you want it to, the perspective won't pan over those crucial 5 inches to the right so you can see what is going on, the terrified teen girl won't run in the direction your mentally screaming for her to go in. I wonder if after years and years of FPS titles we gamers don't feel the tug of that helplessness a little more acutely than the average film goer, we're so used to maintaining control. I actually caught my hand moving an imaginary mouse to look around once while watching it.
The thing that gets me about these films, and PA4 in particular, is the lack of communication. None of these people listen to each other. Shit is going crazy – evil writing is appearing on the walls, spooky spectres are setting off the Kinect, the chandeliers have a taste for human flesh, and the flatware is possessed, but does anybody compare notes? Nope. Do the parents even acknowledge that things have gotten weird lately? Of course not!
- PA4 actually does some creative cool stuff with the Kinect in the film. Great to see it getting SOME use!
I hate it when characters blithely refuse to listen to each other in the run of the mill slasher, but it is even more egregious in the found footage genre. The entire movie is predicated on the idea that the viewer is watching all the action through the edited compilation of armature footage. The characters are taping the action and creating a record of all the spooky happenings. These aren't the ravening of a mad person or some kid crying wolf, they have recorded proof RIGHT IN THEIR HANDS! I'm not talking about some creepy blur in the corner of a photograph that looks like a ghost, I'm talking real time footage of a 15 year old girl levitating and furniture rearranging itself. But nobody can be assed to look at any of this documented proof, even after multiple life threatening occurrences. It's bullshit.
I think it's really lazy. If the plot of your movie won't work without the characters directly involved deliberately and forcibly denying that there is a problem or doing anything about it, you need to come up with brighter characters and a more threatening situation. You can have a great horror movie without everyone in it acting like a bunch of wads.
Take my favourite horror movie for example, The Thing. A small arctic camp accidentally unleashes a crash landed hostile alien life-form that can shape-shift and imitate any living organism, including people. Unlike most horror movies where the cast spend the first 2/3rds pondering why everyone around them keeps ending up mysteriously dead, the guys at the research station cotton on to what the alien is pretty quickly. Everyone immediately takes action to protect themselves and deal with the threat in very smart and sensible ways. The tension comes in when various characters disagree how to best protect themselves/the world, and only ratchets up further when despite their best attempts, the alien continues to elude them and bump them off one by one. You end up with a nightmarish scenario of paranoia, human-ugliness, and drastic but necessary gambits to stave off a genuinely terrifying creature.
I'd love to see a found footage film that captured that atmosphere of danger and hopelessness. I can imagine how the genre would lend itself so well to an organized and thoughtful reaction against spectres or demon possession. Setting up cameras and surveillance seems like a great first step in a concentrated, but perhaps ultimately doomed, campaign against a supernatural foe. It could set up a nice modern tech Vs. Supernatural force conflict. If only the characters in these movies were smart enough to take the next step!
I love the aesthetic. Drive as directed by David Lynch is awesome. The music is great and I've already gone ahead and downloaded some albums by the musicians involved. I'm loving the super creepy story and surreal slices of life we get of the main character's post-massacre routine. The gameplay is... meh? I deeply enjoyed my first hour or two with the game, but as the difficulty ramps up in the later stages, the problems with the mechanics become harder to ignore.
Control is a major issue. You move your character with the WASD keys but aim and fire with the mouse using a pointer. The problem is that the game moves so quick and demands fairly precise aiming, even when using a melee weapon. There is a lock-on button, but its the middle mouse which is difficult to utilize in the frantic heat of battle. I wish my 360 controller worked. The game recognizes I have the pad plugged in, but when I switch control schemes I can't seem to do anything but move up and down the menu. I have to exit out of the program and go back to the keyboard controls. One of many bugs apparently.
The game has an almost puzzle like feel to it. You start with certain resources in a certain area and are expected to thread a path through a stage without getting killed using those resources. I like that, reminds me of how I viewed Max Payne 1 as a kind of bullet-puzzle game. But then Hotline Miami keeps serving you screwballs. An enemy who brandished a knife last death might have a shotgun the next. Patrol routes might be the same eight times in a row then be inexplicably different on the ninth. For a game that expects you to figure out an optimal path and grades you on keeping a continuous combo, that seems a bit unfair. Maybe I just need to roll with the punches better.
The boss fights are bleh, but that's typical. The real deal breaker for me was a excruciating stealth stage. The game grinds all the manic crazy violence to a stop to have you tip-toe through a non-combat area. I don't want to spoil anything, but your character isn't at his best at this point and you suffer wobbly drunken controls, massive screen tilt, and he'll randomly collapse. Combine that with a game not really made for stealth, and the enemies crazy peripheral vision, and you have one of the least fun gameplay experiences of the year. Seriously lame. Worst part is I know I'll have to go back to it; I skipped a bunch of collectables just to get on with the game.
- OK, tell me the idea of a game that is basically 4 hours of the elevator scene in Drive doesn't tickle your heart.
So I don't know. I was very excited about for Hotline Miami pre-launch and I'm still enjoying it, but I'm not sure if it is something everyone needs to go out and get. If you really love the revisionist 80's allure of synthpop music and neon lights, or have a deep affection for mind-screw games, it might be worth your time. If you have a low tolerance for frustration and "gotcha-deaths" then it is best to be avoided. Kinda a bummer, I was expecting Hotline Miami to be something great.
I got a pitch. Paranormal Activity 5 starts fairly typically. About 45 minutes into the film, a dude in a pig mask bursts in a shoots everyone. The remaining 90 minutes is one super long take of someone gurgling blood in sucking-chest-wound agony.