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Movie Review: Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)
Director: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Cast: Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Katie Featherston, Sprague Grayden, Brady Allen, Stephen Dunham
As I sat in my chair watching Paranormal Activity 4, I noticed something: The main house in the film, as in all the other films in this seemingly endless franchise, look as though they cost the homeowners a good $100,000 or more to own. I smiled a little. I live in a house that is almost as big as what the family in this film calls their living room. To top it all off, I don't have a single video camera anywhere in my house. The evil entity in these films seem to stalk rich families with a camera fetish. In other words, I have no reason to fear a demonic entity entering into my house. Show me a small town family living in small house haunted by an evil spirit, then I might have something to be scared of, but until then, we have Paranormal Activity 4, and if you've seen so much as half of any of the other films, then you've pretty much seen this one.
At least with the other films, we learned a little more about the mythology established in the first film. Here, we are told absolutely nothing new. If I were to guess, I would say that is because there is nothing left to develop. What we were told in the first three films is all the filmmakers are ever going to tell us. If there is a fifth film, and the ending here leaves the door open for one, it'll probably be nothing more than what this film is: An utterly worthless and agonizingly tedious haunted house film.
The story here is so superfluous that it almost seems like a waste of time writing about it. The movie is, I guess, a continuation of Paranormal Activity 2 (part 3, which was also directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, went back in time instead of going forward). This time, we follow a rich family living in Nevada. Most of the film is told through the point of view of the family's eldest daughter Alex (Kathryn Newton). Earlier in the film, she notices a creepy young boy around the neighborhood. One night, when she is hanging out with her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively), she finds the little booger curled up in a ball in her backyard tree house. “He's sooo creepy,” Alex says more than once. Not only is the boy sooo creepy, but he is also, we later learn, the child Hunter the demon possessed Katie (Katie Featherston) kidnapped at the end of part 2.
After Katie is rushed to the hospital for reasons that are never made clear, Hunter is sent to live with Alex and her family. When Ben shows Alex that his computer “accidentally” recorded their webcam chats, and a video of Hunter crawling into bed with Alex, Ben decides to set up laptops all over the house to record everything. It's a good thing, too, because the evil in the house loves setting up scenarios for the camera to pick up. In one scene, Alex hears strange banging noises coming from outside her room. She grabs her camera (of course), and finds her kid brother's toys lined up in a way that no human child would ever line up their toys.
The demon, or ghost, or whatever in this film wears on your nerves in ways you wouldn't think were humanly possible. Everything it does seems to be without purpose. Consider the scene where it comes into Alex's room in the dead of night and pulls her bed sheets off of her. It picks her up, we see her floating in the air, and then...I guess the demon/ghost/whatever put her back in her bed and covered her up again, because the event has no effect on the story, and is never mentioned again after it happens.
Alex manages to capture a lot of activity on video, but for some reason, is never able to convince her parents that something's amiss in the house. One scene we see a kitchen knife lifted off the counter and fly up to the ceiling (it's kind of a cop out when the blade finally comes down). There's another video that shows an invisible entity sitting next to Hunter on the sofa. The scene where Alex is locked in the garage and is nearly asphyxiated by car fumes has enough supernatural shenanigans to convert the most unbelieving of souls. The parents in this film are so daft, that when Alex tries showing her father one video clip of some activity she recorded, he merely congratulates her on what he thinks was a special effects shot made up by her. Even when he experiences an occurrence himself, he still does nothing about it.
If there is anything of praise to say about Paranormal Activity 4, it's the performances turned in by Newton and Shively. These two kids are so likable, and have such wonderful rapport, that you almost wish the filmmakers would cut out the horror movie bull crap and just focus on them. That wouldn't be too hard to manage, considering there is so little horror in the film in the first place, and when there is, it relies on some of the most tiresome clichés imaginable (a cat jumping out for a cheap “gotcha” moment, for example). Paranormal Activity 4 also features numerous shots of people sleeping, and it was in those moments (and many others, honestly) where I felt compelled to do the same.
* (out of ****)