Review: Paranormal Activity 4


by Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)

It’s October, the time so many look forward to with Halloween parties, dressing up, trick-or-treating with kids, watching old horror movies and…. a new Paranormal Activity film! Okay, the first installment came out in 2007, but the last three have been 2010, 2011 and now 2012, respectively. The first film was something fresh, made on such a low production budget (about $11,000) and literally brought fear back to audiences. Of course, after that success, a second installment would be made (much scarier in my opinion), followed by a prequel showing how it all started. We now have the fourth installment with Paranormal Activity 4, which progresses the original story. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite stand up to its first two predecessors.

The movie begins with a flashback to the end of the second film, with a possessed Katie (Katie Featherston) entering the room of her sister and hurling her against the wall on the camera, killing her, and taking little baby nephew, Hunter, in her arms and disappearing. Fast forward five years later to 2011 and we’re in Henderson, Nevada. Teenager Alex (Kathryn Newton), her six-year-old brother, Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp), and their parents (Stephen Dunham and Alexondra Lee) live a typical middle-class suburban life, even if they think their neighbors across the street, single mother Katie and her young son, Robbie (Brady Allen), are a bit of an odd pair.

After Katie is mysteriously admitted to the hospital for an unknown illness one evening, Alex’s mom offers to take Robbie in while his mother is recovering. Alex soon begins to notice strange events coinciding with Robbie’s arrival, while the young visitor’s insinuations increasingly draw Wyatt away from her. Other family members also begin to clue into the strange goings-on, with mysterious sounds, shifting furniture and alarmingly animated household objects suggesting something is seriously amiss.

With the help of her boyfriend, Ben (Matt Shively), Alex sets up the family’s home video cameras and laptops to record Robbie’s late-night wanderings and vaguely sinister activities around the house. They even set up the KINECT’s infrared lighting to capture movement in the home (pretty good use for some paranormal investigating!). As Alex becomes more convinced that some evil presence is seeking her out, the mysterious forces behind Robbie’s visit become more assertive, threatening the family’s survival while tracking back to the earlier abduction of Hunter.

The writer and director tried to go a different route with the fourth film, this time using computer monitors and KINECT to show the paranormal activity going on in the house, but this one is a little lighter on the scares compared with those of years past. It was nice to see that they finally got around to furthering the initial story arch with Katie, though she plays a minimal role here. And the film is really set up for a fifth installment, which should conclude the series. Unfortunately, unlike in the previous films, the scares just aren’t up to par. The scariest stretch in Paranormal Activity 4 are the ten seconds or so (it feels like an agonizing minute) where Alex abandons a Skype conversation with Ben to investigate a weird noise and all the audience gets is an empty, static shot of her bedroom wall and an open doorframe leading into her closet. Brilliantly executed I must say, for the ten seconds or so it takes place.

If there’s one thing to compliment about Paranormal Activity 4, it’s the performance of Kathryn Newton, who sells her role and the situation. The same cannot be said of the other actors, who lack Newton’s naturalness. She seems like a teenager who’s caught in a very bad situation. Matt Shively brings some levity to the film, but we all know how it ends for the characters in a Paranormal Activity film.

Whether you attend the Paranormal Activity movies for the scares or the story, this film is a step down for both audiences. The plot raises plenty of questions that fans will debate in the coming weeks but only because the film is extremely vague on what audiences are actually seeing minute-to-minute, not because Joost and Schulman create fresh directions or interesting mysteries in this installment… because they don’t. I think it’s safe to say we’ll have one more film in the series next October and, should the ending of four be any inkling into what’s to come, should set up for an interesting finale to a ground breaking franchise in the horror genre.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

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