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 scares, this is probably the ‘found footage’ franchise for you. It’s certainly blossomed into its own cottage industry, that’s for sure.
(NOTE: The following review may contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of character and plot. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last paragraph for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Katie (the lovely Katie Featherston) was last seen – in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY time – five years ago, the night she vamoosed with her nephew, Hunter. In this fourth installment, she’s taken up residence across the street from the average American family, and (wouldn’t you know it?) she and her would-be son are about to turn up the heat on Alex (played with solid charm by easy-on-the-eyes newcomer Kathryn Newton), Wyatt – or is he? – (Aiden Lovekamp), and her feuding parents, Doug (Stephen Dunham) and Holly (Alexondra Lee).
Does anyone ever make it out alive of these pictures?!?!
Let me be frank, movie lovers: despite what you might think of these PARANORMAL pictures, they’re a veritable goldmine for the folks behind them. With an average budget of $5 million, this fourth episode grossed over $50 million in the US alone. That’s no chump change. So you can bet that if there’s so much as a heartbeat trapped inside the ‘found footage’ industry, they’re gonna do everything they can to wring it out as far as they can. (Yes, sources confirm that a fifth one is in the offing.)
And, in their defense, they are mostly harmless fun. There is some minor magic at work in these frames. I often find myself studying the edges of the screen, watching for things going on in the background, looking for shifting shadows or watching for items in motion that shouldn’t be. That, after all, is the allure of any ghost story, good or bad, and PARANORMAL has performed some small wonders in bringing that genre back to life. Just look at how many imitators there are in the megaplexes or straight-to-DVD production houses today, and you know it’s a money-maker.
Now, NOT in their defense …
So much of 4 has been done before, and, shamefully, it’s been done even better in earlier chapters of this franchise’s history. When that reality starts to rear its ugly head, maybe it’s time for (A) taking some time off or (B) find some way to amp up the interest alongside the creativity once more. Now, I doubt that’ll happen – certainly not any time soon – so let your cards fall as they might.
To their credit, the producers have incorporated some new ideas into the watered-down plot. There are far more devices that can produce video – laptops, cell phones, gaming consoles, etc. – and they’re used as creatively as they can be within this format. You can find comfort in knowing that, if it films anything, it’s going to find its way into this franchise. At some point, this stretches the believability of the whole ‘found footage’ idea – at what point does the audience fully comprehend that what they’re watching isn’t so much ‘found’ as it is edited together from multiple audio/visual sources? Methinks it has a shelf-life, and, presently, they’re nearing the expiration date.
Lastly, I’ve honestly given PARANORMAL some kudos for trying to think outside of the box so far as characters go. In parts 1, 2, and 3, the screenwriters avoided a lot of the typical traps and trappings of the broader horror format; this time out, they aren’t nearly as competent. It’s one thing to predict the scares (of which most in here are easily predictable), but it’s another thing to have the legitimate violence excised by the producers’ edits. Sure, some scares are better left unseen; but when you give us so few unforeseen ones, you should at least let us see them in their entirety, not cut away right before the glass breaks, the knife drops, or the neck breaks. The final few minutes of the film spool out to unprecedented developments that defy logic as well as the franchise’s central mythology. Where are the possibly going with this? Only the man behind the curtain knows, and methinks he’s now making it up as he goes.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 is produced by Room 101. As for the technical specs, it all looks and sounds as credible as any of the previous ‘found footage’ installments. Sadly, there’s not a single special feature.
RECOMMENDED. Look, if you’re this far along in hoping to understand all of the mythology at the center of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise, then you’re going to see this one whether I give it a thumbs up or not. I’ll admit that I find these mostly a guilty pleasure – not quite all that entertaining, but, like a car crash, I just can’t force myself to look away. I’m figuring one of these times I’m going to see something that’ll truly inspire me to know all of these spirits biggest secrets, and then (and only then) will I be able to look away. At best, it’s only 90 minutes, and, at worst, it’s only 90 minutes. It’s harmless fun, if you enjoy it, though I’ll admit that the scares this time around were pretty thin.
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
Star Rating: 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 … more