Rating: R (language, violence, and terror)
Length: 88 minutes
Release Date: Oct. 19, 2012
Directed by: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Stars: 2 out of 5
Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (“Catfish”) are filmmakers who specialize in the mockumentary genre that is so popular with horror movie fans. They team up once again with screenwriter Christopher Landon to bring audiences yet another low-budget, thrilling addition to one of the most successful series in the genre. “Paranormal Activity 4” is a sequel to the events that occurred in “Paranormal Activity 2.” The film starts with a quick flashback and documentary style recap of those events. The audience remembers that Katie (Katie Featherston) killed her sister and her boyfriend; then she abducted her nephew, Hunter.
Flash forward to 2011, and the audience meets a new, middle-class family in Nevada. Parents Holly (Alexondra Lee) and Doug (Stephen Dunham) live with their teenage daughter Alex (Kathryn Newton) and 6-year-old son Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp). All seems well in their neighborhood, and they find their neighbors Katie and her son Robbie (Brady Allen) quite interesting.
Katie suddenly becomes extremely sick with a mysterious illness, so Holly decides to help by bringing Robbie to stay with her family until his mother recovers. Odd things start to happen when Robbie shows up, and Alex is the first to notice. The typical strange events associated with paranormal activity take place, such as moving furniture, flying objects, and unusual, unexplained sounds.
Having no explanation for all of this, Alex enlists her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively) to help her in constructing a home surveillance network consisting of home video cameras and laptop webcams. They capture on film young Robbie during his sleepwalking and creepy nocturnal activities. It doesn’t take long for them to think that an evil entity is specifically looking for Alex, and it becomes increasingly aggressive and menacing towards the entire family. The audience sees more of the recordings than the characters. In a surprising twist, everything loops back to Hunter’s kidnapping.
This addition to the film franchise adds a few more clues to the story of Katie’s demonic possession that brings chaos to the lives of her associates. There are quite a number of recycled plot elements from the prior films, but the scares are sudden and they still bring the heart-racing thrills sought by the audience. In a way, the film is like a mishmash of classic horror movies such as “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Shining,” and “Poltergeist.” It’s a very basic story, with similarly elementary execution. The film appears more modern than its predecessors do, as it makes use of computer recording technology.
A believable mockumentary can be difficult to pull off, but this film does so convincingly, much to the credit of the directors. The setting is well established, giving an excellent layout of the family’s home and little teasers about areas the audience should keep an eye on. Simple things like a beaded curtain moving in the wind keep the viewers on edge. The camera work using the laptops adds a disorienting sensation that differs from that of handheld cameras. The frames are oddly placed at certain points, and the filming is intentionally jerky and often unfocused. The close-ups are great distractions that are often used when something strange occurs in the background. The film lacks a score, but relies heavily on well-timed sounds for maximum creepy and thrilling effect.
One of the most impressive visual effects involves a creepy star field created by the narrow light beams emitted from an X-Box in a dark room. As far as scary scenes go, the best moment of the film is all of ten seconds in length, but the result is terrifying. When one of the teenagers leaves a bedroom to investigate an odd noise, the audience sees a closet doorframe and is left to wonder what lurks in the shadows. Something does appear in that shot, but it won’t be spoiled here.
The film implies that there is a deeper mythological element-another puzzle piece-that will encourage audiences to watch another sequel. Most fans of the genre will certainly see elements of “The Blair Witch Project” in this film’s ending. At this point, the series is starting to become the film equivalent of the television series, “Lost,” which isn’t a bad thing. For the next go-around, maybe the audience will receive answers to the implied questions occurring during the course of the franchise. Until then, “Paranormal Activity 4” is great for scares that make viewers jump out of their seats.