At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Paranormal Activity 4

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Aiden Lovekamp, Brady Allen, Stephen Dunham, Alexondra Lee, Katie Featherston, Alisha Boe/ Runtime: 87 minutes (Rated Version) and 92 minutes (Unrated Version)

Well….that was brutal. Honestly after having to go through what I just did movie lover I am now of the conviction that those responsible for the Paranormal Activity series should’ve either stopped whilst they were ahead or changed the title to “Mehhh This Seems to Happen to Just About Anyone Activity”. I say that because here I am on what was this series’ 4th chapter and I have realized that at the time this came out, this money-making, fan-appreciated, spook show had already become an integral part of movie goers’ Halloween movie watching and in the process had taken over for the at-the-time dead and buried Saw series. Yet for all the positives one could attempt to muster up about them, I have noticed that these movies all manage to utilize the exact same narrative formula whilst throwing novelty out the door of a speeding locomotive and in exchange depend on repeat moments and scares that feel watered down in perhaps the worst way possible whilst only giving maybe a handful of minutes of each film to actual narrative building. To that end, while this installment does give us an intriguing new Xbox “night vision” format to replace the iconic blue night shots that have become a series trademark, this is ultimately the same exact film as before with just a mostly new cast of characters to follow and a new house to witness some “weird shenanigans” ensue in yet again…..

The plot is as follows: It’s been five years since Katie decided to play family butcher on boyfriend Micah, her sister, and her sister’s husband and then promptly abducted her sister’s new baby boy Hunter from her home in Carlsbad, California and then just as swiftly vanished into the pitch-black night. We are soon placed in a town in Nevada known as Henderson and just as quickly introduced to our new family we will be following for this go around of kooky shenanigans in the form of the Nelsons as they are in the midst of enjoying Halloween whilst also observing a new family has decided to move in next door (oh goody). However when our intrepid heroine for this go-around, a girl by the name of Alex and her aspiring love interest/paparazzi in training Ben decide to head out to Alex’s treehouse in the backyard one night, they are startled to discover a young boy in there. We soon learn that the boy’s name is Robbie and he happens to be one of the two new neighbors next door (5 guesses and the first 4.5 don’t count as to who the other one is….). Thus we soon see as the days go by, Robbie begins spending more and more time around the Nelsons’ house until one day he is invited to stay with them when his mom gets sick and winds up in the hospital. It is during this time that not only does Robbie become friends with our intrepid heroine’s younger brother Wyatt, but we learn that Robbie has a friend of sorts that he calls “Toby”. However when Alex and Ben uncover some creepy things on a recording of Ben’s including Robbie sneaking into Alex’s room in the middle of the night, our dynamic duo decides to install some additional cameras around the house in order to figure out just what is up with this odd little boy. Suffice it to say that what they uncover will introduce them to terror beyond their wildest imagination and potentially result in no more and no less their untimely demise…

Now I’m not exactly the smartest person in the room, but even I am of the opinion that should the paranormal exist beyond what we see in the land of movie magic and online chat rooms, then footage of such occurrences should be more common to the world around us seeing as there are cameras just about everywhere nowadays (except in my house of course, but that’s because I removed all 32….I think). As such, there are only a trinity of conclusions I can really come to: either the vast majority are hoaxes, people are too scared to tell their stories, or Paramount has been buying up all the rights for years now so they can keep churning these out until we get tired of them and decide to spend our money on something else that doesn’t involve being voyeurs to a family’s paranormal misfortune. Jokes aside, the fact that the vast majority of footage of such phenomena is not available in droves is probably due more than anything to how much these films like to repeat themselves over and over again (I mean I’m not an expert, but I’m pretty sure no genuine paranormal entity is THIS lazy so as to not try something new in scaring the beejesus out of people). Indeed whereas the very first movie was actually a wee bit frightening in certain respects, the same can’t be said for the sequels that have followed in its wake. Yet even though conventional wisdom would seem to hint that when you cram the same thing down people’s throats after a while they will eventually get sick of it, you might be astonished to learn that these all actually made serious money at the box office especially when you factor in film budgets and marketing costs. A fact that incidentally most likely explains why we will be getting yet another one of these movies, following a 7 year hiatus, in 2022 (goody goody, but fingers crossed all the same that it gets axed).

Thus and having that knowledge in the back of your mind, I think it is safe yet also unfortunately sad to note that Paranormal Activity 4 is no more and no less than identical to every other movie that this series has produced in every way that you could possibly think of. By that I mean that this is a slice of cinematic pie that consists of a family’s day to day lives slowly but surely beginning to come apart at the seams. Initially this change seems innocent, but as the movie goes on begins to evolve into more than just an eerie coincidence especially when those “eerie coincidences” are able to conjure up frightening moments which themselves are able to conjure up terror and anxiety which finally conjures up not only mortal peril, but the moments where the narrative is either molded or things are set up for the next chapter where the process will begin anew. Indeed it really is an iconic example of what is known as one-note cinema. A population of film that this fits perfectly especially when the scares come exactly when you think they will and everything else is just more of what you have seen before with only a few wrinkles here and there thrown in for the “sake of novelty”.

Speaking of…as I mentioned earlier in this review Paranormal Activity 4 does function as an introduction of sorts to a novel concept in the form of an Xbox having night vision that I have to admit it did look pretty neat….the first two times it was utilized in the film. Unfortunately, it is not used only twice and as a result it manages to not be as welcome from that point on which is sad because it is a fairly unique idea. If you stop to think about it though what I just said could also describe this whole series actually seeing as the first one was pretty cool, two wasn’t terrible, and then it just quickly and rapidly began wearing out its welcome to the point that whenever you see someone try to bring it over for movie night you wish you could report them for trespassing just so you could keep the movie from entering your house. Yet while the movie does have some decent tiny tributes to horror movies that have come before, they mostly just function as winks to its predecessors more than anything. Finally I guess it should also be noted that this film’s lead character Alex is actually somewhat likable….even if she does follow the darn near exact same arc that all the other lead characters in this series find themselves going through. Yet while the arc her character goes through is painfully familiar, Kathryn Newton still does a wonderful job in showcasing both the anxiety swirling around her internally and the terror that eventually comes to play on the outside as well. As for the rest of the cast…well I’m sorry to say, but they all manage to prove exactly as one note and as cut and dry and typical for this kind of movie and this particular series so make of that what you will.

All in all I think it goes without saying, but if this were a more unique film going experience than it just plain and simply would not in this or any other world be a sequel to Paranormal Activity. As it stands however, not only is this the 3rd follow-up to that film but even worse it just engages in the same old same old narrative path as the films that came before it. Yes, in all fairness this film does by and large insert new people for us to follow in front of the camera whilst also throwing for a curve the now-iconic blue-colored night vision with the color green (ooh ahhhh). Other than that though, this slice of cinematic pie is one that manages to engage in the same shtick as the other 3 whilst doing remarkably very little with its runtime in really pulling the main narrative of the franchise forward in any meaningful manner. Yes there will be some diehard fanatics of this series who will enjoy this movie, but if you are among the growing number of people who is getting fed up with this series’ shenanigans then you might not tread lightly since there really isn’t a whole lot here that will put your mind at ease about giving it a viewing. On a scale of 1-5 I give Paranormal Activity 4 a solid 2.5 out of 5.