Review of “Paranormal Activity 4” by Nick Anderson
“It’s your Aunt Katie. You’re almost ready, Hunter. I’ll be here ‘til you’re ready.”
It wasn’t long ago that “Paranormal Activity” was the hip newcomer on the horror scene. In 2009, the ultra low budget original bedeviled millions of horror fans around the globe, becoming one of the most profitable films ever made. Inevitably, its success led to sequels. “Paranormal Activity 2” was a step down filled with horror movie clichés and plot holes, but at least it still had a decent amount of suspense and tension. The creepy prequel, “Paranormal Activity 3”, became a major success, out-grossing both prior films. The third installment’s co-directors, Henry Joost and Ariel Schuman, were then hired by Paramount to make the fourth installment.
With the same directors, “Paranormal Activity 4” should follow in the footsteps of the third film, right? Wrong. The fourth installment is a tired, half-hearted attempt to wring more cash from an aging formula. The directors make several baffling choices that hurt the film’s credibility. Too much of the movie is set during the day, including many scenes involving demonic activity. The prior films usually had the good sense to set these scenes at night. Also, there are way too many false alarms. Tired clichés are dusted off in an attempt to get a cheap jolt out of the audience. The “boyfriend playing a prank to scare his girlfriend” and “the cat that jumps out nowhere” scenes that have appeared in decades of horror movies are used again here. Even the demon seems bored this time. After three movies of subjecting a family to severe emotional trauma and torture, it mostly resorts to half assed attempts to scare its new victims. Pushing books off shelves, turning on computers in the middle of the night, and moving chairs are pretty tame stuff by the standards of this series. This movie also has a brutally slow pace. The first half is filled with banal scenes of the family going through their daily lives. All of the movies in the series have had these types of scenes, but there are way too many in this installment.
The movie’s thin plot involves a teenage girl named Alex (Kathryn Newton) who begins to witness strange phenomena in her house after mysterious new neighbors move next door. The new denizens, of course, turn out to be the demon-possessed Katie (Kate Featherston) and her young son Robbie (Brady Allen). Robbie strikes up a friendship with Alex’s younger brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp) and stays with their family after Katie is mysteriously injured. Like all major characters in these movies, Alex has an absurd obsession with filming absolutely everything that she does. She and her bumbling boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively) install web cameras on every computer in the house, and she also insists on taking a video camera wherever she goes. Alex tries to tell her parents about the eerie occurrences that are happening in their home but, naturally, they’re not listening. It is revealed that Wyatt was adopted, and he begins to behave oddly, insisting that he is Hunter Rey, the baby kidnapped by Katie at the end of “Paranormal Activity 2”. This makes no sense at all, but the filmmakers don’t seem to care.
The last third of the film does manage to pick up the pace a bit. Wyatt is sucked into a bathtub by the demon and later enters his sister’s room while she sleeps. As he silently stares at her, her body begins to levitate. The demon also traps Alex in the garage and turns on the family’s car, nearly killing her with carbon monoxide. Meanwhile, Katie begins another neck snapping killing spree. The film ends with Alex and her father encountering the witches’ coven that was seen at the end of the third film.
Ultimately, “Paranormal Activity 4” is a stale, anticlimactic entry in an aging horror franchise. The actors do their best to deliver genuine performances, but their efforts are not nearly enough to save this disappointing installment. Paramount is continuing the series with “Paranormal Activity 5” and have hired Oren Peli, the director of the original movie, to helm it. It will probably be an attempt to take the series back to its roots, but at this point it may be too late. Only time will tell.