The horror franchise runs out of steam in ‘Paranormal Activity 4’
Fri, Oct 19, 2012 (4:10 p.m.)
By this point in the Paranormal Activity franchise, it would be a surprise if the filmmakers were able to pull out something new and unexpected, so the fact that Paranormal Activity 4 is formulaic and often tedious is not exactly news. But trotting out the same types of scares, the same plot structure and the same found-footage format gets less effective with each installment, and PA4 feels especially listless, taking the increasingly convoluted series mythology in an uninspired new direction without actually adding anything interesting to it.
The first sequel to actually take place after the original movie (PA2 took place mostly simultaneously, and PA3 was a prequel set decades earlier), PA4 moves the action from suburban Southern California to suburban Henderson, Nevada (shot, of course, in a different state, and looking nothing like the Vegas area), where a new family is experiencing unexplained supernatural phenomena. The family may be new, but their neighbor is familiar series boogeywoman Katie (Katie Featherston), who was last seen kidnapping her nephew Hunter under demonic influence.
Katie stays mostly offscreen until the movie’s climax, and the main source of creepiness is her young son, Robbie (Brady Allen), who comes to stay with his neighbors when his mother is “ill.” Robbie’s presence brings about the standard bumps in the night and unexplained door openings/closings, so teenage Alex (Kathryn Newton) and her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively) set up cameras to investigate. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who also helmed PA3, try to liven things up by using webcams and even the motion-capture projections of an Xbox Kinect, but it just amounts to the same old tactics, and a lot of time spent watching people sleep and/or engage in mundane daily activities.
At one time, that was enough to build tension, but now it just builds tedium. Add to that the increased focus on franchise continuity (the movie opens with clips from previous movies, to helpfully recap for new and/or forgetful viewers), and PA4 spends far more time generating boredom than it does generating scares. Just as things start getting intense and Katie’s true mission starts becoming clear, the movie ends abruptly, no doubt to return with more stall tactics and fake-outs in Paranormal Activity 5.