Paranormal Activity 4 is a contrived, unoriginal, unmotivated effort that cruelly belabors an already exhausted premise. This comes after I begrudgingly recommended the previous film for being more entertaining than the one that came before it, a disappointing prequel that couldn’t live up to the unprecedented success of the film that started it all. “This movie works as a standalone horror film,” I wrote one year ago, “but as a part of a franchise, it’s unnecessary.” This new chapter is not only unnecessary, it doesn’t even work as a standalone horror film. With this in mind, can we finally have a serious discussion about horror movie franchises, specifically how unneeded most of them are? As much as I hate sounding like a broken record, horror movies should be judged on their ability to frighten people rather than on their potential to spawn future moneymakers.
This film continues in the tradition of its predecessors by being a found footage mockumentary. What started out as a clever and original cinematic technique has rapidly become tiresome and repetitive; it has run rampant in the horror genre, and it has recently begun extending its cinematic reach to other types of films, including superhero origin stories (Chronicle) and police dramas (End of Watch). Watching this movie, which is almost entirely constructed from streaming video chats on laptop computers, it became all too obvious that the filmmakers are running out of ways to show footage being obtained. They’re also running out of believable excuses for the characters to constantly be holding a camcorder. Is everyone in this universe an amateur filmmaker? If I ran across the street to the neighbor’s house in an attempt to save someone’s life, I can assure I wouldn’t be trying to make a home movie out of it.
The second and third films were prequels, focusing on the strange events plaguing sisters Katie Featherston and Kristi Rey. This fourth chapter is the first sequel of the series, set five years after the events of the original film. Taking place in Henderson, Nevada, we meet a teenage girl named Alex (Kathryn Newton) and her six-year-old brother, Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp), who live in a rather upscale home with their parents (Alexondra Lee and the late Stephen Dunham). Strange things have been happening since their new neighbors have moved in across the street. This would be a woman named Katie (Featherston) and Robbie (Brady Allen), a young boy she claims is her son. Presumably, Robbie is a pseudonym for the baby she stole in 2006 – her nephew, Hunter.
According to Alex’s mother, Robbie needs to be looked after because Katie has fallen ill and needs to spend some time in the hospital. True to what horror-movie convention dictates, Robbie is an odd, aloof, ominous boy that says very little. He will repeatedly wake up in the middle of the night and stare at Alex as she sleeps, and he often times goes down into the living room and stares up at the flatscreen TV. He immediately becomes friends with Wyatt, who will in due time exhibit his own odd behaviors. Is Robbie’s presence somehow connected to sudden bouts of poltergeist activity, such as chairs moving on their own, doors opening by themselves, chandeliers swaying and crashing down, a knife that flies through the air, and repeated phantom thuds? If you really need an answer to that question, perhaps you truly don’t know whether or not the Pope is Catholic.
Alex begins to suspect that Robbie is up no good. She relies on her boyfriend, Ben (Matt Shivley), to set up a series of laptops around the house as surveillance cameras. This came about, conveniently enough, because he admits to Alex that his computer automatically records their webcam chats, and apparently continues to record after the chat has ended. Don’t ask me how this works; I have absolutely no idea. Sam helps things along by turning on the family’s Kinect infrared system, which, through a night vision camera lens, bathes the room in bright dots of light, almost like a projected star field in a planetarium. Although it’s amazing no one ever thought to turn off the system over the following days and nights that footage is captured, it does allow for several effective shots in which it’s revealed that an invisible entity with the approximate proportions of a child is in the house.
Before we get to the frenetic and very abrupt ending, Paranormal Activity 4 does what a lot of horror movies do nowadays and surprises the audience with a plot twist. How seriously are we supposed to take this sudden revelation, given the fact that it raises far more questions than it answers? What does it say about Alex’s parents, who must somehow be involved? Although directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman have seen to it that they’re both just one step above nonentities, it was apparently deemed important enough to mention that they’re having marital problems and are probably on the verge of divorce. And isn’t that how it always is in a movie like this? With its overreliance on stock characters, its increasingly pedestrian plotlines, and its steadily decreasing air of mystery, this franchise is now running on empty.
It seems like the “Paranormal Activity” movie franchise is fast becoming an October-Halloween tradition as with the “Saw”, “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th” movie franchises in the past. Who can blame the filmmakers? The supernatural movie franchise does have its high points when it comes to generating scares even when the story is not as solid as one can hope for. Well, “Paranormal Activity 4” is once again co-produced by its creator, … more
...but this new film doesn't hold a candle to those movies. I remember watching the first Paranormal Activity back in 2009 in a crowded theater in San Antonio. Up until that time I'd never truly been scared by a movie before, except for with The Exorcist and even that wasn't all that scary. Paranormal Activity was the first movie to truly frighten me and cause me to lose sleep. The second film was much the same except much, much scarier. The third film, although it went in … more
Who knew it was so easy to spot a ghost? The last I knew those knuckleheads on Ghost Hunters Uber-Global have yet to definitely catch so much as the shadow of a legitimate spectre on tap – EVPs not included – but these PARANORMAL ACTIVITY folks just have the spirits popping up left and right. Granted, maybe they’re not all demons – at this juncture, who can tell? Still, if you’re looking for some harmless fun and equally harmless … more
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
Consider the Source
Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.