Written Review: Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)

by Jason Pyles
Movie Podcast Weekly.com

Note to readers who haven’t seen any “Paranormal Activity” films: It’s not absolutely necessary to see the three preceding films of this franchise in order to watch this fourth one. The set-up for this movie picks up where the second installment left off, and the prerequisite highlights from “Paranormal Activity 2” are shown to us at the beginning of this fourth movie, anyway. But my recommendation to anyone who hasn’t seen any of this franchise is to simply watch the first movie and then call it quits on the franchise.

Premise: When a suburban family babysits a neighbor boy for a few days while his mother is hospitalized, bizarre and inexplicable occurrences start happening in their house.

Review: “Paranormal Activity 4” begins five years after the events depicted in “Paranormal Activity 2,” which means these events are set in 2011. As noted in the premise above, this suburban family lives across the street from a single mother who has a very strange little boy named Robbie. When the boy’s mother is hospitalized, there is no one to watch over him, so this neighbor family at the center of this fourth story takes Robbie in.

The found-footage premise of this movie comes from the 15-year-old daughter of the family, Alex (played very naturalistically by Kathryn Newton). She loves to video chat with her friend, Ben (played pretty hilariously by Matt Shively). So, Alex and Ben are obsessed with filming everything — including filming themselves as they watch other previously filmed footage. Ridiculous.

So, when the paranormal activity starts happening in Alex’s home, Ben and Alex set all the computers in the house to record everything that’s going on, thus giving us the multiple stationary cameras placed throughout the house.

When I reviewed “Paranormal Activity” for the newspaper I was writing for in 2009, I saw it in the theater at a midnight screening. The crowd reaction was literally the most intense I had ever seen during a movie. For my first paragraph of that review, I wrote, “Never have I experienced such a buzzing audience as when I left the theater after watching “Paranormal Activity” — a truly scary, must-see horror film that has become something of a cultural phenomenon.” It was one of the best, most memorable nights I’ve ever had watching a movie.

“Paranormal Activity 2” is like a Saturday Night Live parody of its predecessor, because it takes the paranormal activity to the extreme. For example, there’s a scene in part 2 where the demon entity drags someone down a staircase, and it looks exactly like a “Scary Movie” parody of a similar occurrence from the first film.

“Paranormal Activity 3” is rooted a little more in reality, and it introduces some new chilling elements to the franchise, so it’s definitely better than the second film, but still not as good as the first.

And “Paranormal Activity 4” is the least of all four films, primarily because it merely delivers more of the same. We’ve seen everything before that happens in this new movie in the three preceding films, which had the same effect on me as if I had watched them all, back to back, so this is essentially the fifth hour of watching the same gimmicks, ad nauseam.

“Paranormal Activity 4” is boring and rather uneventful. Take, for example, a scene where a character is slowly lifted up in mid-air and levitated. As viewers, we wait … and wait … and the character floats … and floats. Sure, it’s a well done, creepy effect, but what’s going to happen next? Nothing. Cut to the next scene when it’s daylight and the same character is just fine. Oh, and this floating footage is never seen by the characters themselves, so it has absolutely no narrative function. The word “pointless” springs to mind.

Other moments are similarly disappointing, such as when a disappearing butcher knife later resurfaces back into the picture, but to no great effect. If a screenwriter of a horror movie seeds a butcher knife into a set-up, then the pay-off with that knife had better be good. No. Another dud. Again — pointless — because the characters never discuss or even realize the butcher knife-related events that have even happened.

Aside from its novelty, the reason the first film worked so well is the paranormal activity graduated in severity as the film progressed. And since the characters were reviewing what they had filmed, we could get “all freaked out” along with them. Well, three more movies later, it just doesn’t cut it to start out gradually (once again) with a door moving slightly. And to make matters worse, the characters really don’t review the recordings, as I mentioned, so they don’t know how bad things are getting.

“Paranormal Activity 4” has a couple of aspects that I appreciate, however. There’s a scene where a little boy rides a big wheel around the house, which is an unmistakable nod to Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980). And then, after three movies of struggling to depict an invisible antagonist, “Paranormal Activity 4” cleverly uses the Kinect infrared nightvision sensor dots to help give discernible shape to otherwise unseen presences.

Summary: But despite a couple of decent ideas, “Paranormal Activity 4” is typical for what you’d expect from the fourth installment of a franchise. In contrast to the energized and electrified audience at my first “Paranormal Activity” screening, the impossibly immobile viewers that saw “Paranormal Activity 4” with me were either Royal Guards from Buckingham Palace or they were dead.

Verdict: 3 out of 10 ( Avoid )

Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Starring Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Katie Featherston
Genre: Horror / Thriller
Country: USA
MPAA Rating: R (for language and some violence / terror)
Runtime: 88 minutes.

Trailer: Watch
Blu-ray: N/A
U.S. Release Date: October 19, 2012

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