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.