Paranormal Activity 4
Directed by Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Written by Christopher Landon, Chad Feehan
Starring Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Brady Allen, and Aiden Lovekamp
Rated R | 88 Minutes
Release Date: October 19, 2012
Things that go bump in the night. The primal unknown that can make anyone lose sleep. It’s a simple concept that we can all relate to, which is why the original Paranormal Activity struck such a nerve. Audiences loved it, and it made over 12,500 times its budget in profit. So it’s not surprising Paramount has been churning out sequels every year since.
As with the previous films, Paranormal Activity 4 features “found footage” captured by the characters themselves. Each film as found put a unique spin on how the footage is captured, but the result is the same. This time, the audience is shown an amalgamation of footage captured from web cams, digital cameras, and, in a less-than-subtle piece of product placement, feedback from an XBOX Kinect setup. Unlike the previous films, however, this one offers no explanation for when or how the footage was found and put back together. This was the first sign that storytelling was not a high priority this time around.
Though the series tends to jump around a lot with chronology, part four is a sequel in all respects. The story takes place in 2011, five years after the events of parts one and two, and approximately 24 years after the events of the third film. It has been five years since Katie (Katie Featherston) disappeared with her nephew Hunter. The footage the audience sees this time is being captured by 15-year-old Alex (Kathryn Newton) and her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively). The two become suspicious of their neighbor’s son Robbie (Brady Allen) and his weird behavior. When Robbie’s mother has “an accident,” he comes to stay with Alex’s family for a few days. Then strange things begin to happen.
Those who have seen the previous series know exactly what those things are and how they will escalate throughout the film. Unfortunately, those hoping for some answers to the many questions raised in the second and third films are going to be disappointed to find only more questions. The series’ piecemeal method of mythological exposition continues as always, but instead of filling in the gaps left from previous installments, the new story only gives us more of the same. The fourth time around, audience members are going to see most of the big jumps coming a mile away. And unlike previous entries in the series, Alex and her family are mostly dismissive of the strange occurrences and never seem to have much concern until it’s too late.
But this film’s biggest weakness becomes apparent when it tries to connect the new cast of characters to the story established in the first three films. While the series relies on cryptic clues and ambiguity, there are several aspects of the new plot that just don’t make sense, even in the context of the film. So instead of gasping at big reveals the audience is left scratching their heads.
After a strong first and third showing, this series is clearly running on fumes. It’s undoubtedly going to continue and, if the post-credits scene is any indication, may be spawning a spin-off series as well. But unless they start making more definitive story arcs, it is unlikely anyone besides the most devout fans will stay interested.