Hollywood these days is all about the built-in audience and franchises. This is why all the big executives cream their slacks over teen-lit adaptations like Twilight or The Hunger Games or the idea of rebooting the Spider-Man franchise every six or seven years.
Of course, Horror Movies figured this out ages ago — it's all about the sequel, and the next sequel, and the one after that. Friday the 13th got up to its 11th film before they started over with a remake of the original (genius, right?) but even a cinematic masterpiece like The Exorcist still spawned two sequels and a prequel (although technically Exorcist 3 was supposed to be a standalone film and the studios renamed it to cash in. Exorcist 3 is pretty awesome actually, download of the week).
And while there hasn't been an Exorcist-quality horror flick in quite some time, we're still seeing successful (money-making) horror franchises like Saw and Paranormal Activity, the fourth installment of which opens this Friday at the horrorific Village 8.
Personally, I am underwhelmed by the Paranormal Activity series. The indie-spirit and big success of the first one was inspiring and it's commendable to see someone taking a modernized stab at the ghost story but this franchise has a lot of "watching people sleep" scenes and the found-footage/reality TV gimmick got old fast. For sure, there were some creepy moments, the end of the last one was pretty good, but returning filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Paranormal 3, Catfish) are definitely not stepping it up this time around.
Paranormal Activity 4 follows a teenaged girl (Katheryn Newton) and her boyfriend (Matt Shively) as they navigate yet another haunting and token creepy child. The acting is solid but Joost and Schulman don't bring a lot of new ideas to the table. Fans of the franchise expecting the storyline (and villain) from the first three to progress in any sensible manner will be disappointed. There are a few creepy moments and fresh technological approaches to the found-footage idea but overall this is more of a game of spot the ghost than a true scary movie.
Also opening, Alex Cross revisits the forensic psychiatrist character from a series of popular novels (played by Morgan Freeman in Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls.) This time around Tyler Perry, (better known as "Madea" from the litany of very successful comedies Perry wrote and directed himself) takes a shot at Cross, hoping to display his range working on someone else's project.
But the project lets him down. Alex Cross is a less-smart, less-tense Se7en knock-off. Director Rob Cohen (XXX, The Fast and the Furious) brings energy to the action set pieces but there's a lack of real wit or intelligence considering this is a movie about a PhD-holding forensic psychologist who's chasing down a lean, mean killing machine who loves to mix charcoal sketches with his torture. ("Picasso" — the bad guy — is played by Lost's Matthew Fox, laying it on a bit too thick to be believable.)
If the director drops the ball on the procedural elements, Tyler Perry does the opposite. He's solid in the home-life and comedic parts of the flick, but when the going gets tough he doesn't seem to have that extra "grit" of say a Denzel or a Samuel L.
Is that Perry's fault? Tough to say. Under a craftier director he may have been able to pull it off. Check out Alex Cross if you are really bored or want to see some PG torture scenes. It's nothing special.
But you can bet Hollywood will have a sequel coming anyhow. The question is when?