Review: Paranormal Activity 4
It's October, and there are no more Saw movies to occupy our ritualistic annual watching of horror movies, but we do have the Paranormal Activity franchise. The franchise up to this point has certainly been intriguing, and it turned the horror genre on its head in 2007 when it unexpectedly scared audiences in droves. The simplistic story has evolved into an intriguing tale of demonic possession that dates back to the childhood years of the people involved, specifically Katie (Katie Featherston) and her nephew Hunter. Paranormal Activity 4 at first doesn't seem like it will have anything to do with the previous three movies. It takes place in a different city and years after the events of the second film (the third film was a prequel).
It begins innocently enough, as these films often do. Alex (Kathryn Newton) is your typical 15-year-old teenage girl. She has fun filming everything with her camera and is a very responsible big sister to her adopted brother Wyatt. One day, while her and her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively) are touring Alex's backyard, they encounter the strange boy from across the street, Robbie (Brady Allen). Robbie is quiet and awkward, and when his mom has some sort of accident across the street, he has to stay with Alex and her brother for a few days. That's when strange things start happening.
Found footage as a subgenre of horror has an inherent problem, one that is evident in Paranormal Activity 4. The first act is usually boring, and any type of foreshadowing can't be subtle -- it has to seem obvious and out of place (like the waving of a knife for no reason that just might come back into play later in the film). Thankfully though, this fourth entry brings a lot more comic relief, and it's all the hands of Matt Shively. Even in moments of tension, he's able to bring a humorous element to this movie that the franchise had been lacking up to this point. The rest of the story beyond the first act is more of what we've seen before . Every night is labeled before it starts and is a setup for a new gag to elicit scares, but there are a few clever ones, including a reason why you may want to turn off your Xbox Kinect when it's not in use.
The constant, senseless and sometimes never-explained use of a camera is a tired trope at this point, and other obvious plot holes can be a little frustrating at times, but it should be noted that behind all of that are some good performances by the leads. Kathryn and Matt have nice onscreen chemistry for a teenage couple and the boys playing Wyatt and Robbie are appropriately creepy when they need to be. It's nice to see that for the fourth film in a franchise, performances can still be good and effort can still be put in.
For all of its repetitiveness of familiar beats, Paranormal Activity 4 does ramp up nicely in its final minutes and it goes to an incredibly interesting place. It does of course set up for another sequel, but if this franchise continues to evolve from what was once a simple story into a complicated but extremely well thought-out franchise, the annual Paranormal Activity film might just be a welcome thing year after year for the foreseeable future