We pick things up five years after the events of Paranormal Activity 2, after film number 3’s sojourn to the 80’s, in which the possessed Katie (Katie Featherstone) kidnapped her sister’s baby, to find that she has moved across the street from our newest protagonist, Alex (Kathryn Newton). Eventually the now five year old Hunter, going under the name of Robbie, winds up being looked after at Alex’s house after Katie supposedly gets taken to hospital, and that’s when the requisite ‘weird stuff’ begins all over again.
And that’s sort of the problem. If you’ve seen these movies before you know how it’s going to play out; a lot of strange things start to happen, increasing in intensity and weirdness until there’s a big set piece at which point the movie will abruptly end. The expected scares are still there, even though they’re less scary now than the were in the first film when they felt fresh; the ‘nothing’s happening, nothing’s happening, what’s that over there, did something move just in the background LOUD NOISE!!!!’ will still give you the desired jump scares, but there’s nothing in here that will stick with you the way some of the first film’s slower burn scares did.* However, you will still get a little tenser every time the film switches to the night time scenes; the anticipation is worse than the scares this time round, whereas in the first film both were equally terrifying. They’re more ‘oh’ than ‘Ahhhhhhh’ here. That’s not to say I wasn’t in my bracing for fear position throughout most of the movie, because I totally was, but most of the scares are damp squibs. Pleasantly though, there are some decent daytime scares which mixes it up a bit, because nothing scary happens during the day, right?
[*well, actually there is one moment that really unnerved me, but it’s not enough to save the film.]
As has been the norm with this series, the makers have upped the methods with which they try to scare you: the second film had the multiple cameras, the third had the camera mounted on an oscillating fan, and this one has uh…an Xbox Kinect. Using that devices motion sensor technology, and the camera’s night vision you’re able to see things moving that aren’t actually there; outlines of ghostly presences moving through the living room. It’s a good idea but the execution is sorely lacking and there’s really only one scene in which it is used effectively, and winds up seeming like cynical product placement. Again, the multiple (web)camera set up is used, and it works well, as does the camera phone POV because as the main characters are teenagers it’s not too much of a stretch to believe they’d do such a thing. I know I probably would. The age old question asked in this genre raises its head again, as it always does – “Why would you still be filming this?” – but you can bury those thoughts because, well, there’d be no film otherwise.
Overall though, it’s basically the same as the three movies that preceded it and if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. Not that that will matter. It’ll still make a tonne of money and film number 5 will be in cinemas this time next year doing exactly the same thing. There’s nothing vastly different in number 4 though, and the plot that connects all these films isn’t really advanced much further either. But you don’t go into these films expected answers you go to be scared. Will Paranormal Activity 4 do that? Yes. But only if you haven’t seen 1, 2 or 3.
Verdict: a series that has been resting on its laurels for too long. It’s grand for what it is; a no-frills haunted house story, but it isn’t original anymore and as such has lost any impact it once had.
Review by Jonathan Cardwell.
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