Directed by: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Premise: Picking up five years after the events of Paranormal Activity 2, a family takes in their neighbor’s son while his mother is away and ghostly phenomena begin to disrupt their home.
What Works: Paranormal Activity 4 breaks from the overlapping storylines of the previous three films with a new family in a new location and the change is welcome, even if the basic scenario remains the same. The filmmakers get convincing performances out of the two child actors, played by Aiden Lovekamp and Brady Allen. The kids give natural performances and are convincing in their roles.
What Doesn’t: As the Paranormal Activity series has gone on, the films have gradually unraveled and the fourth installment is the worst of the series as it is nowhere near as enjoyable, skillful, or as scary as the original. Part four has some very basic problems, mostly stemming from the very fact that it is the fourth entry in this series. All found-footage movies have to invent a conceit to justify the existence of the footage and they are further burdened by the need to provide a context for the final product that is the feature film. The first two Paranormal Activity films devised a conceit that generally worked and the audience viewed the footage under the guise that the filmmakers had assembled it from the abandoned belongings of missing people. The fourth Paranormal Activity film fails on both fronts. The conceit of this film is that the main character (Kathryn Newton) and her sort-of boyfriend (Matt Shively) have set up webcams all over the house but the movie constantly intercuts footage from cameras held by the characters and it is often implausible that they would be recording this footage. The filmmakers of Paranormal Activity 4 also lose the existential premise of the movie; just how this footage would be found is a mystery and questions of who has assembled it and for what purpose are not answered. That failure undermines the illusion of realism that the film and the whole Paranormal Activity series depend upon. Paranormal Activity 4 also suffers as the fourth film in the series because it is more of the same. The filmmakers introduce a new family but don’t bother to characterize anyone. The cast of found-footage movies are usually thinly characterized, which is a byproduct of the format, but the filmmakers of Paranormal Activity 4 don’t even try. That laziness is the defining characteristic of this movie and despite the new cast Paranormal Activity 4 is a rehash of the same scenarios in a house that is indistinguishable from the settings of the previous films. This is above all a very boring film and Paranormal Activity 4 goes long stretches without anything happening. In some ways this highlights the strengths of the first film, the bulk of which was time-lapse photography of a couple sleeping, and yet the filmmakers managed to devise tricks and effects that were clever and creepy. The haunting sequences of Paranormal Activity 4 are executed without any of that imagination or skill. This film is further hurt by its format. Unlike the previous entries, in which the images were captured on blue-tinted security footage, many scenes in Paranormal Activity 4 occur in full color under harsh lighting. That destroys the atmosphere that these films have relied so heavily upon and it makes obvious one of the weakest links of the series: Katie Featherston as the demon possessed antagonist. When she crept around the hallways of the first two films it was creepy but in this movie she just looks bored. Like the filmmakers, Featherston appears to be just going through the motions and her boredom encapsulates the tediousness that is this entire film.
Bottom Line: Paranormal Activity 4 is a terrible movie. The first film was a one-shot novelty that was never designed for serialization and each sequel manages to prove it.
Episode: #411 (October 28, 2012)