Director: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Writers: Christopher Landon (screenplay), Chad Feehan (story)
Starring: Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Brady Allen, Aiden Lovekamp
Length: 88 min.
All of the activity has led to this … but I’m betting Paranormal Activity 4 is not the last we’ve seen of this popular series. Since the 2009 release of Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity, these cult horrors have achieved overwhelming success, largely due to their simple concept and low budget/high profit equation.
For those who have not seen the first three films, I doubt this fourth entry will inspire your interest (or patience), but for eager followers, Paranormal Activity 4 holds the prospect of a resolution to many unanswered questions. However, film no. 4 is ultimately – although effectively – an unmemorable stepping-stone in the ‘big picture’ of this franchise.
Several years have passed since possessed Katie (Katie Featherston) kidnapped baby Hunter in the final moments of the second film. Their whereabouts have remained unknown, until now.
Teenager Alex (Kathryn Newton) – who likes to record day-to-day events on a handycam or her smart phone – notices the strange behaviour of new neighbours Katie and son Robbie (Brady Allen). When her family agrees to care for Robbie after Katie is suddenly hospitalised, Alex begins to notice the boy’s disconcerting effect on younger brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp), which coincides with certain unusual ‘activity’ within the house.
While Alex’s sort-of boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively) remains sceptical of her fears, he eventually agrees to help her activate the webcams on each laptop around the house, so that every moment can be recorded.
What follows are a succession of bumps in the night, which intensify as each member of the family becomes more aware of the activity, ultimately reaching a frightening crescendo.
Unfortunately, the tricks that scared us throughout film no. 1, occasionally in no. 2 and surprisingly in no. 3 aren’t quite as scary anymore. After a rather unsuccessful attempt to reproduce the novelty of the first in Paranormal Activity 2, 2011’s Paranormal Activity 3 – also directed by the pair behind this installment, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman – reenergised the series, largely through the ingenious shot of a handycam on a rotating fan pedestal.
Paranormal Activity 4 aims for a similar level of inventiveness. The use of webcams cleverly (though implausibly) circumvents the monotony of the found home-video footage format, while the addition of an Xbox Kinect, which projects an array of infrared motion tracking dots seen through the night-vision function on a video camera – is chillingly exploited.
However, the premise behind these gimmicks seems better realised than the execution. The tension is thinner compared to the film’s nail-biting predecessors, and the climaxes of the suspense sequences are painfully predictable at times. Joost and Schulman rely too heavily on the most basic elements of the series, seemingly afraid to push the boundaries. Christopher Landon’s screenplay, from a story by Chad Feehan, provides little beyond empty plot developments that only form more loose ends.
On the other hand, perhaps these loose ends are necessary in the filmmakers’ attempt to hold onto whatever interest is left in this waning series.