Theatrical Review: Paranormal Activity 4

It’s the fall of 2011, five years after both Katie and the baby Hunter disappeared at the end of Paranormal Activity 2. Our new setting is Henderson, Nevada and we meet a new family, father Doug, mother Holly and their kids, teenaged daughter Alex and the youngest son, Wyatt. They seem to be a normal family, though the marriage has hit a stale point, but still nothing out of the ordinary. That all starts to change when new neighbors, a mother and son, move into the neighborhood and then weirdness happens.

That’s the broad premise for Paranormal Activity 4 the latest film in the franchise from producer Oren Peli and directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. I make no bones about it; I’m a huge fan of the franchise and so I was certainly looking forward to seeing this one. I thought this was a lot of fun, but the franchise is starting to show it’s age and it might be time for Peli to consider wrapping this one up.

As has been the case with all of the Paranormal Activity movies, this is in the “found footage” horror sub genre. As has also been the case with each film in the series, some new tricks have been brought into play, with this one making extensive use of phones and computers to record the footage as well as using an Xbox Kinect to help give a particular neat effect to some of the scenes. I love the “found footage” sub-genre just due to it’s sheer immediacy of action as well as how it makes you scan every little bit of the screen to keep you on your toes. There’s no problems there at all.

Now also like the previous films in the series, this new one adds a little bit more to the bigger story, though you really won’t see that addition until the very final scene, but still it’s a big one and it certainly expands the scope of these films (and even further, there’s another scene after the end credits as well). But even with that expansion, I think the formula here is starting to show it’s wear and it might be time to start to think to put a bow on this series and wrap it up. Where this new installment falters for me is in a couple of areas. First, the daughter Alex and her friend Ben set up the house with the computers recording the footage. The next day, they check the footage and certainly see that something has happened, but that seemed to me like the last time that they did that, even though stranger things started to happen on subsequent evenings. If they’re consistently checking it, then they should be more driven than what they seem to be in this film and thus trying to tell anyone what exactly is going on. If that was happening that would certainly lead to Alex’s parents finding out more, but here they’re just played as being thick and not much concerned at all. Sure doing these things would’ve probably deprived the filmmakers of a few cheap scares in the film, but I think it also could’ve added to the tension. As it is, even though the scares are cheaper, they still work, but nowhere near as effective as the prior three movies… until you get to the final scene anyway, and for me that made it a little more forgivable, but not much.

The performances are all pretty good here, even if it’s by rote. I mentioned the parents above, and I can’t really fault what either actors Stephen Dunham or Alexondra Lee do here, that fault is more in the script. Of course, this wouldn’t be a Paranormal Activity movie without Katie Featherston in it and so I’m certainly happy to see her here and would like to see her in more features as well (beyond Oren Peli’s projects- Featherston was also part of the cast of ABC’s The River also from Peli).

My suggestion; let’s wrap this series up with the just announced fifth film. We’ve got all of this “found footage” and now let’s put this in the hands of some professional paranormal investigators (or even TV paranormal investigators) and put a new spin on this beyond it’s domestic settings. That’s what I’d do, but I doubt that will happen. These films are very cheap to make and their profit is considerable given their cost. I love the series, and enjoyed this latest chapter, but still the wear is starting to show and it would be better for the series to go out with a huge bang rather than get staler with potential sixth and seventh films.