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'Paranormal Activity 4' Movie Review

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating


'Paranormal Activity 4' teaser poster
© Paramount
While the Paranormal Activity franchise is as popular as ever (Paranormal Activity 3 setting an October record with a $52 million opening weekend), but each sequel in the series has been marginally inferior in overall quality to the film preceding it. Can Paranormal Activity 4 reverse that trend?

The Plot

Five years after the events in Paranormal Activity and Paranormal Activity 2 (part 3 being a prequel), Katie and now-6-year-old Hunter's whereabouts are still unknown. In a suburban neighborhood in Henderson, Nevada, a reclusive single mother and her young son move into the house across the street from 15-year-old Alex and her family. When the new neighbor has a medical emergency that requires her to be hospitalized, Alex's parents agree to let the boy, Robbie, stay with them for a while.

Robbie, who has a habit of wandering off and staring into space, is an odd bird, but he becomes quick friends with Alex's younger brother, Wyatt. He introduces Wyatt to his imaginary friend, Toby, and the two boys share secretive conversations that make Alex suspicious of Robbie's intentions. When strange things begin happening around the house -- objects moving, weird noises, shadowy figures -- Alex and her boyfriend Ben set up several laptops to record the goings-on around the house, and what they find puts all of their lives in danger.

The End Result

Kathryn Newton in 'Paranormal Activity 4'.

Kathryn Newton in 'Paranormal Activity 4'.

Photo: Dean Hendler © Paramount
As a fan of the Paranormal Activity films, I've ignored the creeping suspicion in the back of my mind that the series has been in a slow creative decline since the first movie, but as solid an example of the found footage style as the latest entry is, it's clear that the franchise has jumped the shark. By the fourth time around, the scares are just not as potent as they once were, in part because the element of surprise has vanished. Audiences have become hip to the series' game, scanning the room in every scene in anticipation of an object moving or a figure materializing, and when it does, it's hardly shocking.

Perhaps sensing this, the filmmakers throw in a series of jump scares that feel cheap in comparison to the organic sense of dread that made the original movie almost unbearable. Additionally, there are gratuitous scenes that do nothing to further the plot (and in fact muddy it), seeming to serve only as "cool" shots to pad the trailer. The increasing sense of desperation of the attempts to scare come at the cost of the plot, which fails to answer many of the questions left hanging after PA 3 and frankly raises even more. The continuing storyline has become vague and nonsensical and for the first time, I get the sense that the writers don't really know where they're going for the inevitable fifth film.

On the bright side, having seen dozens of examples of the now-unavoidable found footage format, I can say with confidence that Paranormal Activity 4 is still one of the better of its ilk. One of the best aspects of the series that often gets overlooked is the naturalness of the performances (a key to establishing the realism) and the lighthearted, stress-relieving banter, and on those notes, Paranormal Activity 4 is as strong as ever. There's also a sly move to introduce a new viewpoint in the series by having much of the story told through web cams rather than security cameras or handheld video cameras (thus putting the movie in the hands of a demographic-friendly teenaged girl), although the use of the Kinect video game device feels a bit forced. It makes you wonder what product-placement device they'll turn to in the next film. iPadanormal Activity anyone?

The Skinny

  • Acting: B- (Believable, realistic.)
  • Direction: C (Modest, predictable scares.)
  • Script: D+ (Basic and predictable; muddies the continuing storyline.)
  • Gore/Effects: B- (Limited gore; good visual trickery.)
  • Overall: C+ (Above average for the found footage genre, but easily the worst of the Paranormal Activity series.)

Paranormal Activity 4 is directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman and is rated R by the MPAA for language and some violence/terror. Release date: October 19, 2012.

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