The Paranormal Activity franchise has never reclaimed the fun and originality (as original as it can be for a horror film) of the first one. The mythology has been relatively contained through the first three films, focusing on Katie (Katie Featherston) and her family. Ultimately, a new route had to be devised considering the third film went back to Katie’s childhood so instead directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman moved things to a new family. Unfortunately, they ignore what’s come before in order to focus on a boring family that boring things happen to. The pace is plodding, the scares are telegraphed from a mile away, and by the end there are more questions then answers (that apparently will be answered in the fifth film). I’d say if you hated the last two then this will be the worst of the bunch.
Alex (Kathryn Newton) and her family live across the street from a bizarre little boy named Robbie (Brady Allen). When Robbie comes to stay with Alex and her family for a few days the girl believes Robbie has brought something otherworldly with him; and this entity wants Alex’s brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp).
The one saving grace of this film is how fun it will be to watch with friends at home. The film tries hard to take itself seriously but what worked for films one through three don’t work here at all. The original trilogy had technology that was good for the times or at least was explained away (particularly the large camera used in the first film). Here the found footage is Skype chats and XBOX Kinect. You didn’t read that wrong, a key plot piece is product placement. The issue is that using a laptop to record isn’t exactly easy. The character walk around with the lightest laptops in the world apparently as you see them practically pirouette with a computer one-handed while they get a drink. Alex places laptops everywhere leading me to believe there’s a magic laptop that multiples and has a never-ending supply of battery power. How no one notices a glowing laptop screen throughout the entire film is never mentioned and leads me to believe the family is filled with idiots. All the scares have been done to better effect in the first film and after seeing someone get thrown around or pulled by their feet the first time you’d expect this film to tone it down. Nope the film utilizes characters on wires for the majority of the runtime. All the scares hear are repeated until you can see them around the corner.
What directors Joost and Schulman fail to grasp is the idea of canon. The first two films had a tightly wound narrative focused precisely on Katie and her sister. By moving the events to another family entirely your script better be able to explain the plot holes of a move like this. I don’t want to spoil things but the baby from the second film has been seemingly adopted by the family we’re now following. How did this child enter into foster care considering he was kidnapped in the second film? And for that matter, are we moving into the idea of a coven of Satanists? I’m not sure because it’s never explained why there are various people possessed in the end. Who is Wyatt talking to? Who is Robbie? How are they all connected to Katie? Aside from the appearance of Katie herself nothing is explained and Schulman and Joost have the audacity to say “it’ll all be answered in the next film.” I shouldn’t be surprised, I mean we have product placement masking as a narrative device, but to leave everything open is a travesty to filmmaking.
The acting is irrelevant as everyone just runs, screams, and looks scared. The only good actor continues to be Featherston who can just stand and look at you and make it creepy. How I wish the films went back to her and her alone. Paranormal Activity 4 is a cash grab that isn’t shy to admit it. The scares are repetitive, the story has more holes than Swiss cheese, and there’s nothing fun to look forward to. Watch it with friends on DVD or just watch the first one.