Viktoriya Berezovskaya ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff
It’s late October now, and Halloween and horror movies are on our minds. Every year moviegoers get a few scary movies to sink our teeth into, and this year, one of those is the latest installment in the Paranormal Activity series. Shot on a tiny budget and modest timeframe, Paranormal Activity made waves in 2009 as a high-grossing, understated horror flick shot in the found footage style of The Blair Witch Project. It wasn’t universally adored, but the positive reception was enough to warrant a sequel in 2010: Paranormal Activity 2, which continued the story, had more actual paranormal activity and less of the tense silence that had characterized the first film. In 2011, Paranormal Activity 3 seemed to round out the story with a prequel, while still delivering the activity that audiences had come to love.
Paranormal Activity 4 is set in 2011, a more modern time with more modern technology, and it follows an upper-class teenager named Alex (Kathryn Newton), her family, and her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively), none of whom had any relation to Katie (Katie Featherston) and her demon-ravaged family. The story starts five years after a possessed Katie kidnaps her nephew Hunter at the end of the second film, when a strange boy named Robbie (Brady Allen) stays with Alex’s family for a few days while his mother is hospitalized, quickly befriending Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp), Alex’s little brother. As in every Paranormal Activity movie, strange things start happening, and Alex gets them all on camera.
The series has gotten progressively more creative with its cameras, since the single hand-held camera of the first film. Paranormal Activity 2 relied on security cameras installed around the house. Paranormal Activity 3 gave us a moving camera, one mounted on a rotating floor fan. Paranormal Activity 4 makes full use of its modern time setting, using primarily webcams, coupled with the infrared setting on a camera, used to pick up the motion tracking of a Kinect.
Unlike the previous movies and despite all these tools, however, Paranormal Activity 4 goes noticeably backwards in the otherwise persistent trend of more and more activity with each passing movie. In this latest installment, actual paranormal activity and even the long, silent shots of the house that created so much tension in the previous films take a firm backseat to character development and plot movement. Unlike its ancestor, the first film, in which the plot was merely a vehicle for tasteful tension and the resulting horror, Paranormal Activity 4 is chiefly concerned with continuing the story that developed in the first two sequels. For a Paranormal Activity movie to let plot reign over horror simply fell flat, especially given that that was never the purpose of the series before. It was not a good move.
Not only that, but in an attempt to get the kind of security-camera-like coverage we got used to in the second film, the family in Paranormal Activity 4 is conspicuously wealthy. This is the only way to explain the presence of a laptop in virtually every room of the house, but it is at times so excessive as to alienate viewers. A line by Alex’s father about the number of chandeliers in his house (apparently four or five) came across as unnecessary, and Wyatt’s hand-me-down Macbook strains credibility even in our modern, wired age.
This is not the only major hiccup. The realistic portrayal of Alex and Ben as typical privileged kids has them come across just as privileged teenagers come across in real life—sort of annoying, sort of funny, and hard to take seriously. The dialogue, while realistic, comes across at times as simply funny, and that is a dangerous thing for a horror movie that tries to take itself as seriously as the Paranormal Activity films take themselves.
On the whole, this is about as strong a film as you expect the fourth installment in a franchise to be. That is to say, pretty weak, and easily the weakest film in the series. The first two sequels, at the least, made sense and helped to round out the story, while still delivering something scary. Paranormal Activity 4 does little but muddle the story, without really giving any of the punch that we walked into the theater hoping to feel.
Watch it if: You want to keep on following the franchise.
Don’t watch it if: You’re expecting to be wowed, impressed, or scared.