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John’s Horror Corner: Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)

October 22, 2012

MY CALL:  They dropped the ball on this one and left a bad taste in my mouth marking, perhaps, an end to this otherwise well-done franchise.  Not scary.  Not creepy.  Not good.  [D]  IF YOU LIKE THIS WATCHParanormal Activity (2008), Paranormal Activity 2 (2010), Paranormal Activity 3 (2011), Grave Encounters (2012), Poltergeist (1982).

I loved Paranormal Activity (2008), perhaps enjoyed Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) even more, and, despite being my least favorite, I even liked Paranormal Activity 3 (2011).  These three movies set the same stage with the same types of slow-building creepy scares while obscurely adding detail to the origin of their poltergeist.

This fourth installment has the same directors as Paranormal Activity 3 (2011), but they seemed to have strayed from the formula that worked so well in the previous films.  For example, parts one to three open by introducing us to young couples and families that are likable, and they did this well so that we viewers would actually give a damn when bad things start happening to these characters.  They’re always some variant of an American family portrait and it’s easy for us to identify with them.  Part four begins by introducing us to Alex, a young teen, and her sort of annoying boyfriend.  Contrary to the prequels she is just handed to us and no effort is made to show her finer qualities or her relationship with her parents.  In fact, the parents are more implied than presented until later in the movie, when they become more integral to the story.  We don’t even get the notion that the parents have a happy marriage as our victems did in Poltergeist or the earlier Paranormal Activity films.  As a result, we don’t know much about them and feel indifferent about their haunting.

Alex is meant to be a protagonist much as the daughter was in Paranormal Activity 2.  She does the things a protagonist does, but I never bought it.  Her character was ineffective.  As the story progresses and her parents begin to experience the haunting, we are just then starting to learn about them.  Oh, and the franchise story seems to be getting obscured rather than developed in this fourth film which was, for lack of a better word, annoying.

Alex’s family takes in their neighbor’s (Katie Featherson; Paranormal Activity, Paranormal Activity 2, Paranormal Activity 3) young son Robbie after she goes to the hospital sick.  After taking in this quirky child and his invisible friend, some strange things start happening.  We don’t know what Katie was doing between her disappearance (at the end of Paranormal Activity 2) and this movie.  She’s just dropped in our lap and we have to just deal with it.  Robbie paints a color-by-numbers witchcraft symbol on Wyatt (Alex’s little brother) which evidently indicates that he is to be possessed during some ritual.


Alluding to the end of part 3, this concept is hardly followed up.  Toby, Robbie’s invisible friend-poltergeist, is a mixed bag in this film.  The first two films seemed more like “house” movies in which “things were simply happening to people” as a result of “something.”  Part three presented a poltergeist, a specific entity, which was actively “doing things to people.”  In part four, we get a little of both, demonstrative of poor writing and rendering our ghost less credible.  The “things” that happen to Alex’s family are less frequent, less scary and less interesting by far than in the other films.
In addition to seeing people getting dragged across the floor by some invisible evil, like they did in EVERY PA movie, we get a random, boring levitation.

For whatever reason, the directors also used fewer subtle “did you see that?” moments when something moves or changes and if you blink you’d miss it.  Those moments were exciting in the earlier films.  All we get in this one is two moving objects, a broken chandelier and some swaying doors.  This movie actually felt boring compared to the rest of this engaging franchise.  Even the meant-to-be-shocking ending was a big ho-hum disappointment.

Even if you’re a fan of the franchise, you should probably just skip this.

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