The 400-Word Review: Paranormal Activity 4

By Sean Collier

October 19, 2012

We'll just call her Fresh Meat.

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The Paranormal Activity franchise, now on its fourth installment in as many years, was given a serious longevity treatment in 2011, when directing duties were passed to Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. The two filmmakers — who still haven’t admitted that their engaging but ultimately frustrating “documentary” Catfish was a hoax — expanded the universe for Paranormal Activity 3 by exploring the demonic backstory behind the torment of sisters Katie and Kristi; they also experimented, successfully, with new ways to set up scares in the found-footage format.

It’s disappointing, then, that in Paranormal Activity 4, they do the same stuff again, with less interest.

We resume the story at the end of the events depicted in Paranormal Activity 2; Kristi is dead, and the possessed version of Katie has absconded with Kristi’s youngest child, Hunter, who is of apparent importance to some big bad demons. A jump of several years (no doubt to be dealt with in another installment) lands us in the Southwest, with an entirely new family...who also happen to be obsessed with filming every moment of their waking (and sleeping) lives.

The joke here is so obvious that it has become a cliche, but it bears repeating: everywhere possessed Katie has ever been, from childhood onward, someone has been meticulously setting up cameras with infinite battery life. Quite a coincidence.

Anyway, our new family is an affluent stereotype — distant Dad, pill-popping Mom, sweet but troubled teenage daughter and a soccer-playing young boy. All is suburban malaise until Katie and a decidedly creepy young boy move in across the street. Through some flimsy machinations, the youngster ends up staying at the well-monitored house for a few days, and all hell, slowly and ominously, breaks loose.

The most important thing in any of these films is the tension, and it’s still in full effect. Joost and Schulman know how to obscure details of scenes, leaving the audience desperately searching the screen for a clue to the evil to come. Misdirection and false threats are deployed capably. There will be genuine screams.

Unfortunately, there will also be cheap jump scares — some literally thrown in as digital blips in the recording, signifying nothing. This installment, while the weakest of the four, is still worth seeing. With no fewer than two additional chapters set up by this film, though, perhaps Joost and Schulman should be replaced before next Halloween.




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