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[BD Review] ‘Paranormal Activity 4’ Is Trite, Cliche, And Lazy Drivel

Heavy spoiler warning. It should also be noted this is a review of the “workprint”, but you couldn’t pay me to sit through this again, so it won’t be revised.

When a film becomes a franchise the viewer expects each sequel to build on the previous entry. Paranormal Activity 2 got a pass because it was basically the same movie as the first (though in retrospect it should probably have pushed things a bit further). Paranormal Activity 3 not only took the plot up a notch, but also kicked the scares into high gear. Where does that leave Paranormal Activity 4? Well…

Remember in Paranormal Activity 3 when an entire kitchen vanished only to come crashing to the tile floor? Well, in PA4 a measly knife goes missing from the kitchen. This perfectly sums up the scope issues of this latest “activity”.

Paranormal Activity 4 takes place after PA2, continuing on from when Katie (Katie Featherston) kidnaps Hunter from her sister’s house. The sequel uses new technology* and follows a young girl, Alice (Kathryn Newton), who spends way too much time filming her misadventures on her laptop, cell phone and handheld camera circa 2002 (sarcasm). She spends the bulk of the first half of the movie interacting with her boyfriend, Alex (Matt Shively), on the devices, and then squandering their in-person time to talk about their online interactions. Meanwhile, something happens to the mother of the “weird” boy who lives across the street, who then comes to live with the family until his mother’s return. Things immediately get weird as it becomes increasingly obvious that this little boy has his sights set on the family’s youngest son, Jackson (Tommy Miranda).

While it sounds complex and interesting, I assure you that it’s not. Paranormal Activity 4 is a bloated mess of contrived scares, heavy exposition (that literally reveals NOTHING) and scares that are less shocking than in any of its predecessors. This is a sequel, kids, a third for that matter, shit should be hitting the fan Poltergeist style! Unfortunately, the audience is forced into watching boring scenes of a young girl yapping with her boyfriend and little kids being mostly quiet (only speaking to say weird things). Worst of all, the audience is essentially made to suffer through 90 minutes worth of shots of empty rooms.

The setup is okay as Alice’s boyfriend sets up a bunch of laptops in the house to spy on the weird kid, and to catch any bizarre paranormal occurrences. But directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman never explain how nearly two weeks of continual footage is being saved on the hard dives… not to mention that at no point do Alice or Alex actually reference this footage. It’s literally a device to explain to the audience why filming is occurring. But even worse, there are more than a handful of moments where you’ll be asking yourself “why are they filming, still?” or “How did they get their camera?” Everything is just overly convenient and LAZY.

And as we’ve noted 100 times on the site, the house across the street is inhabited with witches. As you may recall, the witch house in Paranormal Activity 3 was insanely creepy, unique and had personality. The house in Paranormal Activity 4 is bland, soulless and generic. The biggest issue here is that NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING in Paranormal Activity 4 is better than anything in Paranormal Activity 3. It’s the third sequel in a franchise and I think it’s about time we get some answers. Some explanation of the mythology would be good and, for crying aloud, how about kicking it into high gear before the 30-minute mark?

Paranormal Activity 4 is such drivel. It’s trite and cliche to its own fault, a lazy and cheap replica of a Paranormal Activity movie. If it weren’t for the performances by all three of the children, I may have found myself either sleeping or walking out of the theater- and this is saying a lot from the guy who gave Paranormal Activity 2 a pass.

*Full disclosure: It’s been pointed out that Paranormal Activity 4 has some striking similarities to a segment in our V/H/S, which screened at Sundance months before this went into production. My negative review can easily be construed as a reaction to this. Therefore, take it for what it’s worth.



  • VersaVulture

    I’ve been reading articles and reviews on this site for years, but I’ve never signed up to comment an anything until today. I for one, like this series. I’ve never been let down and honestly, I’ll probably end up liking this one. It’s a tradition for me and my friends. I’m just so annoyed that for days/weeks and maybe longer, you’ve been hyping up Paranormal Activity 4, and yesterday you showed a clip that you said had a good scare, but then you completely massacre the movie in your review… I just don’t get it. I’ll definitely keep reading and visiting the website, but as for listening to reviews… I don’t think I’ll be doing that anymore. I mean no disrespect, but I’m just tired of hearing praise for many clips to movies only to get pumped and then hear that the movie is crap.

    • Evan3

      Way to blame the messenger instead of the people who made the bad film.

  • EvanDickson

    We try to be objective about clips. And often times we sign embargos that don’t allow us to express opinions until a certain date. You’ll notice that ALL of the reviews are hitting today so all of the critics had to wait (except for Austin critics)

  • VersaVulture

    Sorry, I wasn’t aware of this. Now I have different feelings. I’ll end up watching it like I said. I have to support the genre, I always do and when the eventual Paranormal Activity 5 comes out, Ill be there watching it too. Who knows, maybe the real version will be better than the workprint version this review is based off of.

  • jamnut

    I too, decided to sign up and comment on this site for the first time after watching this film. As an avid horror fan I found this to be a complete waste of time and a film full of cheap scares. There was no plot movement whatsoever, and nothing in the way of a series mover (even the later Saw films had that quality). The first film was a relatively good idea, but all 4 films play on the same scares, cheap non-scares, plot-holes large enough to fit your head in, and the same way people die (that stupid force that pushes people 10 feet in the air). Like the review mentions, what is the point of recording it when you’re never going to watch it back again. Also there’s the usual character these types of film has; the ‘ignorant, I’m not going to listen to you and pass off what’s happening’ character, in this case it’s the Mother, if the daughter is so adamant and the Mother is ignoring her, just show her the recordings.

  • mikeknowskarate

    i’m sure it’s still not as bad as ANY of the Bloody Disgusting Selects releases. Every single one of those is absolutely horrible. Thank god I never paid to watch them.

    • Kroork

      I agree with you 100% they have ALL been BEYOnD bad. Can’t believe the site I have respected and taken opinions from would stand behind such crap. But I also hate hated the PA movies, so not surprised this new one is awful too

      • mikeknowskarate

        Yea. Their opinion on movies means nothing to me. I just come here for the news. If this movie is as bad as they say it is then it would fit in perfect with all the other shit they put their name on.

      • Mark Sanchez

        I’m surprised actually, because I really enjoyed Phase 7 and Rammbock, enough so to consider them two of the best horror films of 2011. The rest however, were pretty bad.

        • djblack1313

          i thought RAMMBOCK was very good too!

    • Evan3

      Whilst I love BD, I do have to admit that the two films from their select series were pretty disappointing (Yellowbrickroad was atrocious and Atrocious was… well, generally boring). Nonetheless, I can’t wait to see V/H/S when it hits Netflix.

  • Kwonkicker

    Let’s not kid ourselves: Paranormal Activity 3 set such a precedent for the series that it is dishonest and a bit fool hearty to expect each successive film to surpass it. The third film set such a creepy, eerie, sinister and wicked tone that I had no intention of expecting part four to surpass it. That said: I was at the NY ‘Want It’ screening and my final thought:

    LOVED. IT. From start to finish. First off, like any typical horror series by the time the second and third film rolls around, we pretty much know what to expect plot wise and scare wise. So to sit there griping about “Same cheap scares and thrills” is pretty silly. But what Paranormal Activity does so well is that each movie brings new scares (even if they’re not that many) and manages to wow even avid viewers such as myself. My favorite part of this movie is that it’s the end game, no punches are being pulled and we truly get a sense that none of these characters are safe and everyone and anyone is a fair target.

    Now, my only complaint about Paranormal 4 is two fold: I feel there is no real satisfactory explanation for how Wyatt/Hunter wound up with a family, directly across the street from the coven. Who was Robbie? Where does he fit into the mythology? Where does he relate to Toby’s pursuit of Hunter?

    Second; They briefly explain how Toby was going to harness Hunter’s soul to finally satisfy the payment made by the witches coven, but they don’t really build up to it in the actual film. It would have been a lot more interesting, not to mention terrifying to actually SEE it and to witness what Toby was going to now that he murders the entire family to get to Hunter.

    “All the activity has led to this” Indeed it did. Overall, I am satisfied with the Paranormal Activity series as they have been some of the more refreshing entries into horror culture in recent years. And now that the series will spawn a spin off based on Latino/Catholic mythology, I am curious as to how this will turn out.

    P.S. Is there no review up for SInister?

  • Mylo_89

    This movie should definitely be the last one. While I found the last 10 minutes very tense, everything leading up to it was a bit dull. What I do find really creepy is that the actor (Stephen Dunham) who played the Father passed away from a heart attack, on his 48th birthday, just last month.

  • MachetAY

    Good call mylo. The last 10 mins takes this movie from bad to OK. Most of the movie is the same crap we’ve seen before. Likeable characters, not much of a story, some jump scares, some fake jump scares and an actors face smushed into the screen.

    That being said there is a witch story going on in the PA movies that is pretty cool. Its taking 5 movies and a lot of filler to drag it out but I do like it. I wonder if they’re stretching out a good story or just coming up with tidbits every year.

    I’m guessing that part 5 is in the works already. I’m hoping its the last and they give this story some closure. Pull it all together, quit with the same goofy humor and just make an in depth witch/ demon movie.

    Also have to add that I still think the less is more is the way to go with most movies like this. The hay ride make up effects in Sinister almost ruined the movie for me.

  • djblack1313

    i’m not surprised at all about PA4. it looked atrocious.

  • joesey

    Thanks for your review Mr. Disgusting. As I’d predicted after watching the third one, it’s just a rehash of old scares. The series is boring and has way too many plot holes. At least the SAW series tried to up the craziness film after film. But this series should’ve ended after the first one. And I’m tired of seeing the “audiences” reactions as a way to promote the so-called scariness of the film. It just makes the PA “audience” look like a bunch of teenage pansies. I had to pretend to be scared watching Pt 3. It’s just so pointless now to watch these films in the theater. I’ll wait for it on redbox..if I get bored.

  • Being a fan of the series, i went into ‘4’ with some pretty high expectations, despite the involvement of the ‘catfish’ duo. While the film was entertaining, I felt it to be a full step backward in both story and execution. Everything has been done before in previous installments (and much better, might I add) and if it weren’t for the performances by the actors (except the annoying teenage male), I actually would have been disappointed.
    Hiring ILM to do the SFX was great, and some of the scares were effective, but the movie as a whole just fell flat on its face, which is a shame, as 1-3 were some of the best the genre had to offer.
    About the best thing to come out of PA4 is that after the credits you get a sneak peek at the Latino version detailed a few months back. I am really looking forward to seeing the film from a different creative team, using a seperate mythology, and Latino actors. Santeria as the culprit? Color me intrigued.

  • pyrepunk

    The new one had its problems but in all seriousness I liked the ending and think that it’s a good place for them to just quit at now before it turns out like the Saw franchise, just repetitive.

  • sinisterzombie

    The workprint you saw the boy’s name is Jackson but in the movie it is Wyatt. WTH?

  • sinisterzombie

    So many questions,Katie took Hunter at the end of PA 2. In PA 4 it is revealed the kid Wyatt was adopted and turns out to be Hunter. So how did Hunter wind up out of Katie’s physical possession and ended up being put in the system to be adopted. And who is Robbie, just a kid part of the coven? I thought Katie was possessed by Toby but when we see her for the first time she is acting normal. Then when Katie is upstairs looking for Wyatt/Hunter you see the mom being killed by apparently Toby downstairs.Then the whole Kinect dot lights you see a kid shape behind Hunter, so is Toby small as a child? When the mom gets killed you obviously see her hair move due to Toby’s breath and it is at her height. So does Toby change into anything he wants?Then at the end with all the witches where is Robbie at? So many questions and I doubt we will ever get straight answers unless when they make part 5 they seriuosly think it through and cover all unanswered questions.But I doubt it this franchise will go to part 10.

  • sinisterzombie

    Also about the workprint you saw you have Alice (Kthryn Newton) but in the movie her name is Alex and you have Alex (Matt Shively) who is named Ben in the movie. Also Jackson (Tommy Miranda) is actually Wyatt played by (Aiden Lovekamp). So was there some changes in the released print or what?

  • Primeus

    Mr.Disgusting is 100% correct. I loved the first PA, I thought the second film was decent but not great and I felt the third film was the best in the series and revolutionary. This fourth film was dumb, and lazy, and I was NEVER scared, or creeped out.

    There were just far to much lazy film making. Somethings that were just handled badly…

    #1. They never explained why the family decided to take care of this little boy. They didn’t even know them, and they gave the impression that none of them even knew the mom?

    #2. Why did she get her boyfriend to set the computers up to record if they were not going to actually playback and watch what they recorded?

    #3. The garage scene was probably the most “clever” part of the film but even that failed hard because it was completely ridiculously, and unbelievable that anyone would keep taping during something like this, and that she just with sheer luck, put the lab top in a place that filmed the entire situation.

    #4. The ending was also ridiculous because there is no way anyone would continue filming on a cell phone after being supernaturally dragged out of your house. I would think that is the last thing on your mind?

    That doesn’t even get into the fact the move had no plot, no advancement of the story happened. The fact that nothing cool or shocking really happened. Far to many useless jump scares, and 90% of the time nothing even happens. There is very little build up, and when stuff actually starts happening you don’t even care.

    Sorry after PA3, a knife disappearing, a few chairs moving, and some chick being dragged around the house just doesn’t cut it.

    This movie was 100% trash.

  • Snoogans

    I have to agree with most that this film was disappointing. I had low expectations from the start and it barely met those. I was bored through most of it and could call the scares before they happened. The climax was almost redeemable, but there was so much unexplained and absolutely nothing added to the mythology to give the slightest bit of investment. It was all kind of frustrating and lackluster.

  • Kwonkicker

    Ok, can we drop the whole bullshit bravado act of “Oh I wasn’t at all scared or creeped out”?

    It’s not like anyone is going to think you are a total suck ass pussy for getting scared or freaked out. It’s a fucking horror movie, it’s meant to induce fear and panic.

    This isn’t geared towards Paranormal necessarily; I’m sick of people watching a horror movie and then going on and on about how terrible it was because “I wasn’t scared at all”

    Seriously, drop the bullshit people and enjoy horror pictures for what they are. If you get scared that’s fine. If not, don’t be a smug pretentious cock about it.

  • Evan3

    I’m out. The second was decent and the third had a terrible ending with very little new in terms of scares. Granted, I lasted longer on this series than with the Saw films (though, to be fair to Saw, at least they generally progressed the plot each time).

    • DisturbedPixie

      yeah, The SAW sequels changed our perception of the first film every time. They sure tried hard at the least to tie everything together.

  • ItsMorphinTime

    “*Full disclosure: It’s been pointed out that Paranormal Activity 4 has some striking similarities to a segment in our V/H/S, which screened at Sundance months before this went into production. My negative review can easily be construed as a reaction to this. Therefore, take it for what it’s worth.”

    What segment are you suggesting was copied? I didn’t LOVE PA4, but I definitely enjoyed it way more than V/H/S. I also didn’t think anything in PA4 reminded me of V/H/S. If you’re talking about the use of video chatting, pretty sure you guys don’t own that.

  • DisturbedPixie

    This almost sounds like a review of the first 2 films for me as if people suddenly got what trash it all is. I just don’t get why people thought it was scary or suspenseful, and why the characters want to film their house but not watch the footage. True, I watch them all in my living room, but other film have made me genuinely terrified whilst sitting on my couch with the sound at a reasonable volume. If I need a theater to enjoy it, it must be the hype, loud sounds, and 11 year old girls screaming at the site of a scene change that did it for people. I don’t mind cheap scares, like in PA3, if it is overall enjoyable, but pool cleaners and empty porches do not scare me. Show me that same porch when the processed woman is walking up to it… since you have the camera watching for such an event– but don’t show me nothing for the sake of build up. I admired the 3rd one of at least being funny in it’s scares and random shots. It was supposed to be funny, right? Like when the sheet ghost pulls some stage magic for the camera but is sure not scare the baby sitter. What a coy specter!

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