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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » Paranormal Activity 4
Paranormal Activity 4
Paramount // R // October 19, 2012
Review by Michael Zupan | posted October 20, 2012 | E-mail the Author
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If it's Halloween, it must be Saw Paranormal Activity!



Yes, it's that time of year again... and I don't mean when little kids dress up as ghouls and go door to door looking for treats. No, it's when film critics wipe the beaded sweat from their brow and hope to survive yet another round of debates regarding Paranormal Activity. OK, I'm being a little dramatic, but opinions on this franchise have gravitated to one extreme or the other since day one. There are those who look forward to this spooky holiday staple year round, while others continue to wonder how these films are able to make so much money in the first place. I'm in the camp that believes there's an appreciable middle ground. Sure, these films aren't complex and they certainly don't hold a candle to more recent slow-burn genre efforts like Insidious or Sinister, but with the exception of Paranormal Activity 3's cultish finale, I found them to be highly effective haunted house flicks. Each successive installment upped the ante, so Paranormal Activity 4 had a lot to live up to, both in expectation and execution. Unfortunately, directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman may have inadvertently triggered the beginning of the end with their latest. Filmgoers hoping for another solid entry are likely to leave the theater in disappointment, and that's probably going to be something long time naysayers and fans alike can finally agree on.

In 2006, a possessed Katie went on a murderous rampage and kidnapped her baby nephew, Hunter. This film takes place five years after the events of Paranormal Activity 2, and with their whereabouts still unknown (at least in an official capacity), a new family becomes the primary focus. Enter Alex (Kathryn Newtion), a bright and enthusiastic teenage girl on the outside, but her parents are staring down the barrel of divorce. It's been weighing heavily on her mind, but her little brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp) is too young to pick up the signals. One day, Alex brings her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively) up in her tree house for a little alone time, but are startled to discover the strange boy from across the street, Robbie (Brady Allen), hanging out quietly by himself. Later that evening, an ambulance takes Robbie's mother to the hospital, but with no family to be contacted in the event of an emergency, Alex's family decides to take him in for a few days. Coinciding with his arrival, odd things begin to happen around the house. Suspicious that these events may be the result of a supernatural entity, Alex asks Ben to set up laptops around her home to record everything so they can get to the bottom of it. Their sleuthing reveals that Alex's family got more than they bargained for when they invited Robbie to their home, and when his mother is finally released from the hospital, all hell breaks loose.



The previous entry impressed with some fresh filming techniques, most notable of which being a camera that was rigged onto the base of an oscillating fan. Despite a suspecting audience, its utilization kept them on the edge of their seat and allowed some fresh scares to emerge from an all too familiar formula. To my surprise, Paranormal Activity 4 comes up with something even more clever - capturing the demon's movements via the Xbox 360 Kinect's infrared tracking dot system - but fails to be anywhere near as effective. That's really the biggest problem this film has as a whole - It's not nearly as frightening as its predecessors. In Activity 1-3, the formula was simplistic, but worked - Start the scares off small, then gradually increase the terror until it's palpable and leaves the audience cowering under their seat cushions. This time around, I was waiting for those 'boo' scares to elevate into something more, and although there are a few scenes that provide a shriek or two, the really good stuff is only delivered within the film's final moments. Even then, it's hard to take the film's technological approach seriously. Everything is recorded via Apple's FaceTime, and again, it's a clever way to get more mileage out of the franchise, but it's an idea that should have been used sparingly. Instead, Alex is running all over the place no matter how dire the situation, with her laptop open and (of course) in hand. Last but certainly not least, there's far too much comic relief in PA4. These films have been no stranger to comedy, but as the gravity of each situation increased, the laughs were wisely packed away so the tension could swell. This installment was obviously trying to accomplish the same kind of slow-burn, but every time PA4 tries to get something going, there's always another quip or wisecrack waiting to hack the tension away.

Even so, this bout of 'Paranormal Inactivity' could have been salvaged if only it provided some answers, but if anything, we're left with even more questions. Still, that's not to say the film is a total flop. The cast this go-round is actually quite good, especially Kathryn Newton as Alex. She was charming and sweet as the girl next door and seemed genuinely scared when appropriate. Furthermore, she also leant her character an impressive fighting spirit in one of the film's more memorable scenes, and I'd love to see how she would fare as the last girl standing in a slasher film. Of course, the main attraction for everyone is going to be Katie Featherston. She's hardly in the film, but the small amount of screen time she has provides more scares than the film does as a whole. Brady Allen does well enough as the strange boy across the street, but again, the badly written script pretty much nullifies most of the chills he's supposed to provide. The best part of the film is undoubtedly the big finale, but after a lackluster 80 minutes or so, it comes as too little, too late.



There are some clever sight frights and decent acting on display, but the film overall is a total mess. Too many laughs and not enough scares is bad enough, but the filmmakers also break the 'reality' barrier far too often to pay homage to films like 'The Shining'... and I'm not even talking about a little wink or nod. No, the Robbie character was obviously inspired by little Danny Torrance, and I kid you not, he even rides around the house on the same kind of three wheeler. Now, I'm sure the directors made the best out of the material they had to work with, but it's clear that the writers have run out of ideas. Couple this with the fact that the creative staff are still unwilling to illuminate us as to what's going on, and you're left with very little reason to see this film. So, yes, Paranormal Activity 4 is likely the beginning of the end. Sure, this installment will probably earn over $40 million on opening weekend with more films to follow, but this is where the series will undoubtedly begin to lose some of its viewership. Despite being a fan of the franchise, I can't in good conscience recommend the fourth installment. The tagline of this film promises that 'all the activity has led to this', but if this is all the franchise hopes to offer, then do yourself a favor and skip this gratuitous piece of filler. If you really need a good scare this Halloween, Sinister remains your best bet.
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