Synopsis: It has been five years since the disappearance of Katie and Hunter, and a suburban family witness strange events in their neighborhood when a woman and a mysterious child move in.
Stars: Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively
Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Running Length: 88 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: Another year, another entry in the Paranormal Activity series. In 2009, the original Paranormal Activity made a stir because of its modest beginnings that turned a huge profit for its mother studio, Paramount Pictures. While the final product divided its audience (I loved it but know of several people that hated it with a passion) it was a no-brainer to put a sequel into motion. When the second entry arrived in 2010 a strange thing happened…a fast tracked sequel arrived that was solid and didn’t seem to be created simply to cash in. Number 3 is barely a year old and I still remember being pretty creeped out by it and its prequel ingenuity.
What has set this series apart from the mindless Saw sequels is that with each new entry there has been greater insight given with each passing year. The central mythology of the story hasn’t been messed with and the sequels have added onto the baseline the original set…sort of like a cinematic Jenga game. After the last entry I felt like the series maybe had one good movie left in it before it was time to close the book on the found footage craze.
Sadly, while it’s a solid sequel Paranormal Activity 4 seems to be the film that most represents a commercial spin from the studio. Now that they know they have a proven winner that they can make on the cheap and release every Halloween season, #4 represents a leveling off of the storytelling arc that I’ve respected in the previous sequels. It’s not so much a step back but a lack of motion that keeps this from really taking flight.
Once again using a variety of different methods of obtaining/maintaining the found footage technique that has defined the film thus far, Paranormal Activity 4 moves the proceedings from California to Nevada. Our central family of four has their own problems that are only exacerbated by the new neighbors that might harbor some mysterious secrets. Though an eyebrow raising series of events, their new young neighbor comes to stay with the family much to the growing chagrin of the fifteen year old daughter (Lewton) that soon comes to realize something’s a little…off…about the boy.
Lewton makes for a nice heroine and she’s well matched with Michael Cera look-alike Shively who contributes some nice moments of humor. There are attempts by returning co-directors Joost and Schulman (who also directed the fascinating Catfish) to give these people back stories but that tends to take a backseat to creating an ominous tone in every shot.
The previous films have all benefited from using their repetitive shots of people asleep in their beds or going about their daily lives to play a nasty game of “spot the difference” with the audience. This has led to some clever scares as a result of nicely ratcheted up tension. Unfortunately that isn’t as present in this film and aside from a snazzy sequence utilizing features of the Kinect that are hidden to the naked eye, there isn’t the forward thinking motion and innovation that I’ve enjoyed in the previous entries.
That’s not to say the film isn’t entertaining. It’s a helluva lot better than 90% of the horror films released in any given year and as well produced as a lower budget movie can be. At a trim 88 minutes, the film flies by with its abrupt start and end. Don’t arrive late to the movie because it starts up without any studio logo and ends in much the same way.
A note…there are two trailers for the film. The first teaser trailer (attached above) is a little shorter and, like #3, involves a scene that is not present in the finished film. When I returned from the screening I watched the second trailer and was aghast that so many of the scares would have been ruined for me had I watched it before seeing the film. My best advice is to watch neither trailer before trekking to the theater…it will absolutely ruin some of the better moments in the film.
The tagline for this entry is ‘All the activity has led to this’ and if that’s to be believed, it’s a sad harbinger of future films. The film could easily have found a way to wrap up its tale by building off of the strong finale of #3. Instead, I feel the film may have finally fallen victim to the studio system and decided to stretch the series out until it becomes unprofitable. There are worse movies you can see this Halloween season, though. If you want a very scary film…see Sinister. If you want a film with a few quality jump scares within a reasonably competent overall production…Paranormal Activity 4 awaits you.