Paranormal Activity 4

Movie Information

The Story: More low-rent spooky doings in suburbia. The Lowdown: People who find these bottom-of-the-barrel movies (videos, actually) somehow scary will presumably do so once again. The rest of us are more likely to yawn or go see something else.
Genre: Skype Horror
Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman (Paranormal Activity 3)
Starring: Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Brady Allen, Aiden Lovekamp
Rated: R

It appears that a good many critics are saying that — creatively speaking — the Paranormal Activity franchise (and that’s such an apt word in this case) has run aground. What amazes me is that they’re only now finding that out. When all this nonsense started in 2009 — ready to lay siege to the Halloween ritual of Saw movies — it had some novelty value. The first was made in 2007 for somewhere between $11,000 and $15,000 in someone’s house using someone’s friends as the cast. It was then picked up by a studio and sold on the model of The Blair Witch Project (1999) — purporting to be true and even “proving” its veracity by eschewing any credits. It had some novelty. That’s long gone. The films still look like they were made for a similar amount of money, though the acting has gotten better — even if the story and the dialogue have not. So what we’re still getting is a crappy-looking movie about uninteresting people (which apparently means they’re like, you know, real) being pranked by some supernatural agency for about 75 minutes. For the last 10 minutes, said supernatural agency gets down to doing more than ringing the doorbell and running. This is apparently what the “some violence/terror” in the R rating refers to. But if you removed the teenage leads repeatedly saying, “What the fuck?”, this would be PG-13 stuff. And pretty tepid PG-13 at that.

If you care — and if you do, you probably stopped reading some sentences back — this one is sort of out to answer the question of whatever became of possessed Katie (Katie Featherston) after she made off with her infant nephew in the original movie. Seems she and the now 6-year-old nephew (now called Robbie and played by someone named Brady Allen — presumably because Atticus Shaffer is too old and costs too much) have moved into another suburban house. This one’s in Nevada (not that it really matters since any McMansion-festooned suburban sprawl would do) and across the street from a new family that the recurring demonic force is poised to terrorize. Why? I don’t know. Maybe he’s bored. I was. Anyway, in a wholly preposterous turn of events, Robbie’s Auntie Katie is whisked off to the hospital in the middle of the night and the lad is left to fend for himself, so the kindhearted neighbor lady ill-advisedly takes this nephew of darkness into her home. You can fill in the rest, I’m sure.

There are bumps in the night, a disappearing knife trick, some occult mumbo jumbo about the Hittites (pronounced high-tights in the movie) and a nod to Kubrick’s The Shining (1980). (I have never understood why filmmakers want to call to mind far better movies than the one they’re offering.) The big technical breakthrough here — last time, you may recall, it was the oscillating-fan-cam — involves much of the captured spookiness being Skyped and captured on computers. (Naturally, no one — except the audience — ever sees the really convincing stuff.) This requires our heroine (Kathryn Newton, Bad Teacher) to prowl around presumably with her laptop in front of her and pointed away from her. If you think that sounds ridiculous for her mere nocturnal wanderings, just wait till the big climax when she’s apparently running for her life holding the damned thing in front of her to capture all the boogie-boogie-boogie horrors. (Since it’s all point-of-view, we don’t actually see her lugging the computer around, of course, but it’s the only explanation for what we are seeing.) And you wondered why that bozo didn’t drop the camera in Cloverfield (2008)?

When it was all over, my wife — who had somehow never seen one of these things — opined that it was “possibly the worst movie” she’d ever seen. As someone has already pointed out, those are strong words from one who saw The Oogieloves. While I’m not quite ready to second her assessment, neither do I feel inclined to argue the point. Rated R for language and some violence/terror.

Playing at Carolina Asheville Cinema 14, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher Cinema 7

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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5 thoughts on “Paranormal Activity 4

  1. DrSerizawa

    Since it only costs $15K to make and thereby not many tickets have to be sold to show a profit we should be happy that it’s not up to Paranormal Activity 27 by now.

  2. Xanadon't

    I’d like to think that even the loyalist need a full year to forget how shitty the previous installment was. But you probably have a point.

    I guess it must happen, but can you imagine watching any one of these things twice? I dunno… maybe there are people out there that rewatch Paranormal Activity 4 because they just can’t wait for 5 to come out.

  3. Ken Hanke

    maybe there are people out there that rewatch Paranormal Activity 4 because they just can’t wait for 5 to come out.

    The enormity of that statement explains so much about the current state of things.

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