Offering a handful of novel ideas and clever screenplay, the little horror franchise that could is back to haunting crowded theatres, resting on its past achievements hoping that you don’t remember what specifically scared you the first few times around—because they’re back again.
Five years after the events of the first two movies (the third is a prequel) Paranormal Activity 4 follows along as a mysterious young boy takes up temporary residence at a house with perhaps two of the most careless parents, a susceptible six-year-old, and one very curious teenage girl.
For the first time in the series, we have some genuinely likable stars, and instead of awaiting their untimely demise as in the previous films, you may find yourselves actually rooting for them. Kathryn Newton is 15-year-old Alex, a sassy teenage girl with a big smile, and a love of video documentation. It is her that carries around her iPhone and video-chats, taking the PA franchise to its reasonable technological advancements. The Xbox Kinect night vision is a nice feature as well, but nothing reaches the uncomfortable heights as the oscillating fan-camera from the third movie.
Despite a glowing starlet and her charming pseudo-boyfriend Ben, both of whom offer a slew of hilarious lines, there isn’t much new or particularly frightening. The film is less about creativity and more about the experience. We know what to expect, and we want to be scared, so it doesn’t matter if instead of a demon, it is a curious cat or a speeding car comes into frame and makes us jump.
It’s funnier than scary, and it soon becomes laughable. Attitudinal changes in their son Wyatt, who has taken a liking to this eerie strange houseguest, and pleas from Alex seem to unfaz a set of parents that are willfully oblivious, and seem to conveniently go on dates and leave the house very late at night. Even Alex and Ben, who are so cunning throughout most of the film seem to suddenly make stupid decisions later on just so the filmmakers can get the outcome they want.
And don’t think this film is going to be much different than what we’re already had. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (it took two people to direct this?) are more concerned with following the template of the PA franchise than refreshing it. In the first pair of films, when ‘Night 1, Night 2,’ and so on flashed on the screen, you hunkered down and got ready to something eerie. In this fourth installment, they’re doing it more out of duty than anything else.
See it in the theatre, a crowded one preferably, or not at all. The filmmakers are insulting, delivering false jumps and a tired story. Then again, it’s the activity in the house that is deviates from the norm, not the script.