Like the haunted house at an amusement park: fake and pretty stupid . . .
STARRING: Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Brady Allen, Aiden Lovekamp
2012, 88 Minutes, Directed by: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Dissecting Paranormal Activity 4 is like reviewing the haunted house at amusement park. Of course it’s all fake and pretty stupid, but that’s beside the point. The only question is: do things pop out at you and say “Boo!” at unexpected moments so you get a few good scares?
On that level this latest entry in the series is hardly a landmark, but there are sufficient “Boo!” moments that undemanding viewers should enjoy themselves. The moment you start seriously questioning the proceedings, however, you should go get some soda and popcorn and hope the moment of rationality will pass.
The movie begins with a brief recap of the end of Paranormal Activity 2 where we see Aunt Katie (Katie Featherston) murder her sister and brother-in-law and then make off with baby nephew Hunter. The film picks up five years later, in 2011, with a different family (but just wait). Fifteen old Alex (Kathryn Newton) likes to video her younger brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp) playing soccer and talk to her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively) on internet video chat. So, as with the other films, we’re in “found footage” territory.
The odd child across the street, Robby (Brady Allen), moves in with them when his mother is taken to the hospital. Strange things start to happen, usually involving things and people coming into the frame from off camera. (“Boo!”) Then Robby starts talking about his invisible friend, Wyatt starts acting weird, and Ben makes every computer into the house into a 24 hour a day recording device. You can see where this is going even if you haven’t seen the other films.
If the film has any charm at all it’s in the interplay of Newton and Shively as the teen couple. There’s some sexual banter when they start researching an odd symbol that seems to keep popping up and discover it has to do dealing with a demon. The ritual includes someone who is “pure,” leading Ben to offer to relieve Alex of her purity. That’s pretty much it for the sex in the film, a far cry from ‘80s horror offerings where nubile teen characters were permitted to go all the way before being sliced and diced by whoever the series bad guy was.
So if you’re planning on seeing Paranormal Activity 4 solely to find out if this is finally the end of the series, here’s one spoiler this review will provide: no, it’s not. A scene after the closing credits doesn’t reveal much, but clearly there is the intent to continue. There were seven Saw films, eight Nightmare on Elm Street movies, nine Halloween films including remakes, and twelve Friday the 13th entries including one where Jason met Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger. In short, as long as it makes money, Paranormal Activity isn’t going to be going away anytime soon.
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide will be released in January. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.