Film Review: Paranormal Activity 4
Paranormal Activity – the franchise in which so much as a cereal boxing falling over is considered a terrifying supernatural catastrophe. Well, prepare to be bored out of your wits for another 90 minutes as Para-SNORE-mal Activity 4 hits cinema screens just in time for Halloween.
What’s really scary about this series is not the ghosts, but just how much money it’s made, despite the fact that the whole franchise – and this installment in particular – consists solely of doors opening by themselves, people walking slowly around a house and characters that just can’t seem to stay in bed past 3am. Paranormal Activity 4 especially is repetitive, dull and tedious – playing it safe with a pacing so formulaic that the scares are almost on cue (and are entirely predictable). The movie doesn’t go that extra mile to be original, instead repeating the same kind of story (for the third time in a row).
After the weird new kid Robbie (Brady Allen) arrives at the family’s home to stay for a few days and becomes friends with young son Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp), the structure is entirely monotonous – Alex (Kathryn Newton) checks recorded camera footage for any odd ghostly behavior, Alex complains to parents about a malicious energy following Robbie, parents won’t listen, Alex tries to talk to brother Wyatt, Wyatt becomes increasingly distant, everyone goes to bed and things go bump in the night. Repeat until credits. The frights themselves are scarce and are mostly cheap jump scares, although there are a couple of pretty tense sequences. But sadly, the good stuff’s in the last 45 seconds. This kind of style may have worked for the first film, but it has been worn out after another three movies of the exact same structure.
One major problem that will pull viewers out from the experience is in a very basic plot point: why are Alex and her friend Ben (Matt Shively) filming events on camcorders? The recordings from the CCTV-like computer set-up is understandable as they play all day to catch supernatural evidence, and the Skype moments are an intriguing modern addition to the series, but filming basic family conversations (such as when Alex discusses Robbie’s weirdness with her mother) seems entirely ridiculous. It almost mimics Randy in the South Park episode Pandemic, recording mundane everyday activity for no real reason. Does anyone actually do that in real life?
Despite the writing portraying Alex accurately and effortlessly as a normal teenager, Kathryn Newton gives an absolutely wooden performance and it becomes harder and harder to engage with her character. Matt Shively offers a little more promise with his more charismatic manner, but isn’t given enough screen time to do much.
Whilst Brady Allen does the ‘creepy kid’ role justice as Robbie, with hints of The Omen’s Damien, Paranormal Activity 4 does an awful job of setting his character up. As the first scene opens, a blur of colourful football strips stripe across the screen during a children’s match, and there’s no prizes for guessing who the eerie possessed kid is (hint: he’s standing on the sidelines, not joining in the game, with a dark outfit and blank expression). It couldn’t have been any more obvious, predictable and goofy. So if the movie was trying to freak us out at that point, it failed.
This franchise is as lifeless as the ghosts and demons that haunt them, and will bore you to death. If you want a horrifying scary movie for Halloween, don’t make it this: you’ll definitely be disappointing by the wooden performances, plot holes and almost non-existent frights. It should have been left alone, and it surely shouldn’t have been dragged out just to be milked for all it’s worth. Which is, as of this installment, not very much.