Paranormal Activity 4 (2012) / Horror

MPAA Rated: R for some language, frightening moments, and violence
Running Time: 88 min (96 min. unrated version).

Cast: Katrhyn Newton, Matt Shively, Aiden Lovekamp, Brady Allen, Alexondra Lee, Stephen Dunham, Katie Featherston
Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Screenplay: Christopher Landon

Review published January 4, 2014

Paranormal Activity 4 is the first in the series to change the setting from Carlsbad, CA, here pushing the action to Henderson, NV, a large suburb of Las Vegas.  It's also the first of the sequels to actually be a full-on sequel to Paranormal Activity, rather than a prequel.

 We also have a new family (mostly) from the previous entries, as we mostly follow a teenage girl named Alex (Newton, Bad Teacher), who records herself wherever she goes, except when she is on her laptop, in which case her would-be boyfriend Ben (Shively, Barrio Tales) records her (he claims his webcam software auto-records...right).  For a few days, Alex's family decides to put up a young, shy boy in the neighborhood named Robbie (Allen), whose mother is ill and needs to go to the hospital for a few days.  Not soon after, bizarre events begin to plague the family, and young son Wyatt (Lovekamp) begins to talk to an invisible friend that only he and Robbie can see or hear.

It's a bit of a disappointment to see that PA3 directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Catfish) are returning for yet another entry, as their previous outing was not only weak as far as horror movies go, but also stretched the "found footage" premise of the series far beyond the point of plausibility.  It would have been nice to get some new vision in the mix.  With PA4, they've outdone themselves in the farfetched contrivances department, as there's really no explanation as to why Alex bothers to film any of her life, as she doesn't seem to go through much of the footage she shoots except when convenient to the storyline for her to do so.  In fact, outside of the first ambiguous instance of supernatural contact, there is almost no attempt to even look through any of the footage of the day or evening, which begs the question as to just what in the world the purpose of all of this recorded footage is?

This lack of rationale is is a very big problem for this movie, as not only does Alex record nonstop, but no one around her seems to think this behavior is odd, even allowing her to set up laptops with seemingly unlimited hard drive space to be placed in the kitchen, living room, and Wyatt's bedroom in order to record round the clock -- do teenage girls really have that many laptops at their disposal?  And why does every device, from camcorder, to phone, to laptop cam, all have the same picture and sound quality?

At this point in the series, the creative minds, if one can call them that, are content to just make movies on the cheap that will reap tenfold box office returns.  As long as people pay money hand over fist to see inferior product, there is going to be no attempt to deviate from the formula.  That formula sees a small family in a large house in suburbia filming everything, accepting nothing, while strange things occur in the house that grow from thumps, to furniture moving around, to, eventually, people starting to die.  Katie Featherston (Paranormal Activity 2), the only actor in all four movies, makes another appearance here, riffing on a character that resembles the John Locke character from season 6 of "LOST".  And like "LOST", the overall story, which jumps back and forth in timeline, is pushed forward with each successive entry, but barely -- just enough to string you along to wonder where it will all lead, if it leads anywhere at all.

While the cast is appealing, especially Newton as the lead and Shively as her smart-aleck boyfriend, and the film itself isn't without occasional moments of interest, there is a major problem above and beyond how stupid it is -- it is just not scary enough.  Nearly all of the so-called jump-scare moments are things we've already seen before in prior entries, and the few that are new aren't all that novel either (in one of the lengthier sequences, Alex gets locked in the garage with the car spewing carbon monoxide).  Perhaps the only thing truly frightening is the knowledge that 2014 contains not only a sequel, but a spin-off to a potentially new series as well.

Even though the film is in a different city with different characters, it does tie in with the other three, so it is advised you not watch this film without seeing the others first.  However, given how lackluster all of the sequels have been thus far, it's a better recommendation on my part to tell you to stick with the first Paranormal Activity if you're interested in atmospheric horror flicks, and to skip the rest of the series altogether.  Why pay the price, both in time and money, to see the same film remade three more times, and poorly?

-- A post-credits scene sets up the spin-off, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones.  Followed by Paranormal Activity 5.

Qwipster's rating

2014 Vince Leo