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Paranormal Activity 4 Review

The marketing states “all the activity has led to this.” Keeping that in mind, it’s easy to walk out of Paranormal Activity 4 thinking you got severly short-changed. Being the sequel in any series runs the risk of letting audiences and fans down, but Paranormal Activity 4 should manage to do both. Tis a shame, especially considering directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman also directed Paranormal Activity 3, a marked improvement over the second film in the series. Now Joost and Schulman have hit us with 4, and despite their and the cast’s best efforts, nothing new has been brought to the table.

Unlike Paranormal Activity 3 (a prequel to the first film), PA4 is a direct sequel to the events of the second film. It opens on a recap of a possessed Katie (Katie Featherston) killing her sister and kidnapping her infant nephew Hunter in 2006, noting neither Katie nor Hunter have been seen since. Moving forward to 2011, the footage opens on the Nelson family living in Nevada, seen through the lens of their 15-year old daughter Alex (Kathryn Newton). Following the movements of her mother (Alexondra Lee), father (Stephen Dunham) and little brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp), Alex spends her days recording every aspect of her life via iPhone, Skype and laptops (because apparently, that’s what teens do now).

Lately, Alex has noticed the little boy across the street, Robbie (Brady Allen), randomly appearing on their property at all hours of the day and night. After escorting him back to his house, Alex learns Robbie is an only child to a single working mom, who a few nights later is sent to the hospital for long-term care. As a result, Alex’s family takes Robbie into their home, where he immediately takes an interest in little brother Wyatt. Strange and unexplained events start piling up in the Nelson house, while Alex begins to build a case that the source of the activity stems from Robbie’s presence.
For their part, the cast isn’t awful. Newton is a likable enough lead. Her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively), on the other hand, comes off creepier than Robbie, like the pornographer behind the camera who talks in that voice that attempts to be playful but just comes out gross. Not to mention he does one or two things to Alex that would earn him a swift kick in the groin were it my daughter. She might be better off as my daughter, actually, as I clearly cared more about her than her parents, and if you consider that I didn’t care that much about Alex, you can imagine how that looks. Robbie is your typical “he shouldn’t be talking like he’s 40” creeper and Wyatt has maybe 10 lines, tops, so neither can really do much for their parts but give blank stares.

The biggest weakness of the movie is how much of a slave it is to the cliches of not only its own style but horror in general. What once felt suspenseful and atmospheric in the first film now feels forced and contrived. Too many fake-outs, too many people “jumping” into frame and too many creepy kids. How much more can horror films hammer it into our heads that kids are creepy? I don’t need to know a kid like Robbie is the source of all evil — I already do.You can’t fully knock these tactics as they still sell in the genre despite the increasingly stale taste they leave in audiences’ mouths. What you can hold against PA4 is that it does nothing to expand on the Activity mythos, which clearly the filmmakers are in love with but don’t want to share. Any elements of the cult and/or demon linked to Katie and Hunter are still kept from the viewers. Four movies in, and we still know next to nothing about what’s going on.

We actually got more answers and action out of PA3 than this direct sequel. The entire series has thrived on the suspense of the unknown, but when you keep your fans in the dark as much as the Activity crew has for as long as they have, the allure begins to fade. It feels like PA4 is a setup for something big, but at this point whatever the reveal may be (if it ever comes) is sure to underwhelm after the constant teasing of the past films.


Unlike the third entry, which played off the fact that the cameras were older, bulky and dated, everything about PA4 wants to scream “mobile technology!” Not adopting the in-home camera system of the first two films (as the parents don’t believe anything is going on), Alex is left to capture footage through her iPhone and the laptops she has Ben set up around the house. A big deal is made of the infrared sensors used in the Xbox 360 Kinect system, and while it produces a nice effect, the idea overstays it’s welcome five minutes after it’s introduction. Not to mention with the footage shot in the time frame shown, you’d think the Kinect was running all night, which is nonsensical.And that’s the word to sum up Paranormal Activity 4: nonsensical. It’s not that we need a supernatural horror to make sense, but there are too many instances of “what the hell?” that can’t be ignored. Teenagers are not recording themselves all day/night long. There’s no way that many laptops can go missing and the parents don’t notice. Alex has a mountain of footage showing chairs moving, shadows materializing and Robbie stalking and nobody believes something is a little off. In one scene, Alex notices several black cars arriving at Robbie’s house across the street and decides, in the middle of the night and at 15 years old, she has the authority to go over and investigate on her own. It’s like none of these characters have ever seen a horror movie in their lives, and can’t recognize how bad an idea it is to do what they end up doing,


Then there are some bigger holes in the story that begin to reveal themselves towards the end of the second act and without giving them away, literally make no sense. As noted before, the beginning of the movie states that both Katie and Hunter have not been seen since 2006, yet the connection they share with the Nelson family comes out of left field in a way that feels extremely forced and again, nonsensical. Robbie’s role in the overall plot starts off as something important, but he becomes so diminished to the point where by the end, you have no idea why he was there to begin with. They spend over half the film building Robbie into a creepy kid figure within the Activity mythos and then throw him away with no explanation.Of course, the ending leaves it open to more supernatural hi-jinks and given how inexpensive/profitable these movies are, we’re not surprised a fifth film is already in the works. That said, the Activity series needs to step up it’s game and take some risks that are less about how the story is told (look, we’re using iPhones now!) and more about expanding the actual story — truly taking us to where all the activity has been building.

Even if the ending of the third came off as corny and over-the-top, at least it gave us a little something more to add to the overall picture. PA4 doesn’t do this. It  is not the payoff fans have wanted and is not even close to converting the non-believers. But in the literal closing frames, we see there may be a chance the big reveal is still out there, not unlike the unpredictable, murderous Katie.

Rating
4.0

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