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Paranormal Activity 4 Review: The Song Remains The Same

By Amanda Mae Meyncke | Film Reviews | October 19, 2012 | Comments ()


paranormal-activity-4.jpg

This movie is exactly what you think it is, which is kind of a gift and also the worst thing that could ever happen. On the one hand, the mechanics are the same as the other films in the series, all allegedly comprised of found footage shot by the people in the film itself, the scares built in over time. On the other hand, it's pretty much the same movie as the other three, and wouldn't it be so much more interesting to see something new? Old grey mares not being what they used to be and all, the plot this time revolves around a new family and though the plot of the past three films will be useful in understanding the fourth entry -- it isn't necessary. Having eyeballs and eardrums qualifies you to be afraid, though you probably won't be.

Fifteen-year-old Alex (Kathryn Newton), along with her boyfriend (Matt Shively), begins to notice and document bizarre phenomenon within her parent's luxurious upper middle class home when a strange little neighbor boy (Brady Allen) must stay with their family for a while and begins to befriend Alex's brother.

Paranormal Activity has trained its audience well, which is a particular kind of curse. When you anticipate what the format is, you know your cues. One's eyes automatically search the screen for the slightest hint of movement, especially in the legendary night scenes, and even things that don't seem scary begin to have an edge. The series has gotten quite adept at hiding the action, having characters stand too close to the camera, opening a door that hides the camera's field of vision and so on. Even when nothing scary is happening, it still feels as if it is, and the lack of a sensationalist score adds volumes to the felt terror.

This entry is fairly amusing in a way the previous ones were not. There's plenty of vaguely delightful humor that breaks the tension, especially between Alex and her boyfriend, and as such the scares stand out in a more visceral way when they do happen. There's fake outs and false starts, red herrings and some rather red handed sleight of hand, but a few of the darker moments land with a vengeance.

The fact that no one interacts with people outside the family, never travel or appear to have lives outside the home worth discussing lends a certain air of desperation to the proceedings, as if the action takes place on an island. Fear is the ultimate island, so much of what makes us terrified is a solitary experience of phenomena, such as the worry that we may be alone, that we may end up alone, that we hear strange noises while alone, all of this gnawing at us, manifesting itself in a myriad of ways. Even one other person lends us strength, as evidenced even by our embarrassment as an audience of "falling" for the darker moments in the film or our pride at not being taken in by every moment.

A community built on trust could stand together against that darkness, but the family in the film is splintered -- Alex begs her parents to listen to her but they are absorbed in their own hinted at troubles, her brother's struggles go unnoticed, every solitary soul wanting to connect but is unable. As such, the family unit is rendered void and the participants are susceptible to the encroaching darkness. For how silly this movie might be, Alex is a capable young woman, an obedient and loving daughter and sister, and a grounded young woman who isn't pressured by the sexual intimations of her boyfriend. Though she may be blond, blue-eyed and innocent, her demonstrations of concern and love go unappreciated by her distracted parents. Perhaps this is extending far too much credit, but in a genre where it's easy to make women victims and simpletons, Alex appears to be neither.

There's a few neat tricks this time around, a TV set that projects night vision green dots all over a room (presumably having something to do with the Kinect game sensing monitor device, which, speaking of Kinect, get excited for the product placement throughout the film. Paranormal Activity 4, brought to you by Pepsi-Cola! Drink refreshing Pepsi-Cola with every meal, take it on the go, share crisp, cool Pepsi-Cola with a friend or loved one), as well as Alex and her boyfriend's natural and second nature use of technology to capture and explore their home.

If you liked the other ones, you'll probably like this one. If you haven't seen the other ones, it doesn't matter. The same fairly low-budget production values remain throughout, the scares land mostly and except for the rather silly ending, the story of Paranormal Activity progresses nicely. Still, nothing is gained and nothing is lost, only a few hours of your time you were probably going to waste anyway.

Amanda Mae Meyncke is a member of the Online Film Critics Society, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists and the Women Film Critics Circle, she writes for Film.com and Pajiba, and you can bother her here.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • KYKY

    What song was playing when Alex, Wyatt, and ben were dancing in the dark while Robby was just sitting on the couch?

  • KatSings

    This movie was pretty awful, even with my low expectations. I went with the same two friends I saw the last three with (we've enjoyed the other 2.75 - the end of the third was incredibly stupid, and this one played off of that). This movie managed to make no sense and screw up a lot of the things that worked before. The fake out scares were more effective than the real ones.

    However. Story. We went to a 7:30 Saturday show, and the ticket seller told us we should go to the later film, as this same slot the night before had 192 teenagers that were all assholes and created an enormous problem; or we could give it a go, and if they pissed us off in the first 20 minutes, we were allowed to leave and get a full refund, no questions asked. We went in, thinking it actually should be pretty funny to listen to these teens panic and be ridiculous, and we were so right. The same employee came in just before the movie started and gave a warning about behavior to the theater, threatening to turn off the film and kick them all out with no refunds if they were disrespectful jerks. So the movie goes along, some of them are shitty, but mostly it's fine. My friends and I are mocking the young-ens (ins? how do you spell that word?). Then the last scene happens, and everyone around us is screaming their heads off. Cue the last frame. All of the sudden, the emergency exit door to the left of the screen flies open and there is a man (the same employee) in a back garbage bag wearing a giant Bugs Bunny head. After about 5 seconds of panic inspired by Aurora, I started laughing my head off at what an awesome prank that was on an idiot audience of gullible teens. We gave him high fives on the way out.

    Moral of the story? Sometimes theater employees can make crappy movies TOTALLY awesome and memorable.

  • Jezzer

    "Though she may be blond, blue-eyed and innocent, her demonstrations of concern and love go unappreciated by her distracted parents."

    She's the Aryan ideal, but her parents STILL don't appreciate her? This is a travesty! WHERE ARE NANCY GRACE AND GRETA VAN SUSTEREN?

  • Michelle

    I have no interest in seeing this movie, but this was a really nicely written review.

  • PDamian

    As a devoted horror fan, it's fairly difficult to disappoint me. Just make a genuine, sincere effort to scare me, and I'll be pleased (if not always sated). But this one disappointed, dissatisfied, and downright depressed me. What a waste of time and energy, on both the viewer's part and the producer's.

  • ShagEaredVillain

    Pretending I'm not an adult with a job the next morning, I went along with friends from the bar to the midnight premier. I am not a fan of these films, and they're just getting worse. However, if you haven't seen any of these in the theater, GO. There is no better time to just absorb and reflect on humanity than by watching and listening to them in a movie you don't care about.
    "OH MY GOD A KID RAN DOWN THE HALLWAY!!!" "SHE'S STANDING RIGHT BEHIND YOU!!!" "DON'T GO IN THERE!!!!"

    The movie itself was interesting compared to the others. While in PA3, it was hard to believe home video from the 80's was in any way watchable (in IMAX, no less), in the fourth installment it's difficult to look past the fact that in your everyone's terrified moments they have the wherewithal to keep their MacBook Pro pointed steadily at their face...

    Audiences will also be disappointed by the lack of people standing still for several hours (not supported by QuickTime). There was also a lack of the more practical "activity" that made the first three fun. There wasn't really a slow build in the creepy. We went straight from door creeks and creepy shadows to flinging bodies around.

    To their credit, though, this one's pretty funny. And often it's on purpose.

  • Bert_McGurt

    You know, I read another review of this in the ol' local rag, and they managed to (I'm assuming) spoil the plot pretty completely in the first five sentences. You've avoided doing so (kudos!), but I'm pretty sure I now know exactly what happens, so I now have even less reason to see this.

  • Joe Broggio

    This franchise was dead to me when I took the kids to 3rd one against my better impulses, and discovered 75% of the things that appeared in the trailer were not in the actual movie. Eat a bag, eat every last one.

  • DJ Shovelpants

    Um, Joe? That was the absolute GENIUS of the 3rd one. The trailer didn't spoil a single thing in the movie. They made a fake trailer to keep the scares at a maximum and as a feller who hates to have the whole movies spelled out for me in the commercials, I was appreciative.

    C'mon, man. (Let me know how that bag tastes.)

    That being said, I had lots of questions about the 4th one. Lots.

  • Romeo Cranberry

    thanks for the great review...but can you or someone else help me out here? i can not for the life of me figure out if this is an incomplete sentence or i'm a god damn idiot (granted it could be both, but i think you get the point):

    "A community built on trust could stand together against that darkness, but the family in the film was splintered — Alex begs her parents to listen to her but they are absorbed in their own hinted at troubles, her brother is."

  • It's fine until "troubles." Then something is missing.

  • John G.

    How many chairs fall over in this one? Oh oh, does someone stand around for an hour? How many minutes in before something actually happens?

  • John G.

    What? who downvoted this? I have to know the thought process behind why.

  • Like, Paranormal Activity is the only scary series left, guh. How dare you question the stupidity of a horror series where nothing happens until the last 5 minutes?

    I tell you, when that high chair was kicked over by the baby in the second film, I almost shit myself in terror. Almost as terrifying as when a door closed by itself in the first.

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