Paranormal Activity 4: Movie Review

Brace yourself.  Halloween is coming.

I am an absolute sucker for the ‘Found footage’ style of horror film.  I’ve written here about it in the past.  Recently, I caught the second half of The Blair Witch Project on IFC the other night and I still thoroughly enjoyed it!  That led me to seek out more of the same…  To Netflix!

How happy was I to see that the fourth and most recent installment of the Paranormal Activity series had just recently arrived.  I had to watch it right away.  So much fun at midnight on a Saturday!

Click through the cut for my reactions and some SPOILERS:

First, we need a quick recap of the plot of the first three films.  We actually begin with the third film.  Sometime in the late 1980s, two sisters fall under the influence of a demonic presence that goes by the name of Toby.  Needless to say, it doesn’t go well for their parents.  Now we go back to the first film and we pick up later in the life of one of the sisters, Katie.  She has recently moved in with her boyfriend (I don’t think they were married) and strange things happen to them.  By the end of it, we realize that Katie is the source of the activity, as the yet-to-be-named Demon, Toby, has attached itself to her.  It does not end well for the boyfriend.  In the second installment, we follow another new family dealing with strange activity in their home, and towards the end, Katie returns and kidnaps their young son, Hunter.  Oh, it doesn’t go well for the couple either.

Now we have the fourth film.  Set in 2011 and told largely through webcam footage, we have what appears to be a new family, and the story is focused on their 14-year-old daughter and her male friend.  I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, but it doesn’t end well…  For any of them.

I had mixed feelings about this movie.  The film-makers obviously have this style down to a science, and I have to applaud them for coming up with new ways to use technology in the telling of these stories.  There were very few cameras use in making this one.  In fact, in the story there was only one dedicated camera (owned by the male friend), and the rest were all laptop webcams.  This made for a very limited number of angles to deal with.  There was her bedroom laptop, her little brother’s bedroom laptop, the kitchen laptop and her iPhone (for traveling).  Easy to keep track, I suppose.  The actual camera got hidden in the living room of the house, and this made for some very creepy/fun shots.  See, the family owns an Xbox 360 with a Kinect, and one thing I did not realize is that if you have a camera with a night vision/infrared mode, you can actually see the field of IR dots the Kinect uses to sense object and depth of field.  Check it out, here.  This was fun, because you can see the demon in the dots.  However, in spite of their masterful approach and a couple of fun new toys, the formula seems to have dried out.  I saw all of the scares coming, and as such, some of the thrill was gone!

That being said, I’m becoming more and more interested in the mythology of the series.  What could be a series of unconnected, cheap, Halloween-scare movies has grown into something a bit bigger.  The same Demon, Toby has been the villain of the whole thing.  It has roots in ancient Hittite religion and it preys specifically on children.  Katie is also not a lone case of possession.  She seems to be part of a larger cult – with an agenda.  In fact, Paranormal Activity 4 makes this clear.  It turns out that the young child in the movie is actually the baby that Katie had kidnapped years before, and she’s using yet another child to help old Toby sink his Talons into yet another child.

Anyway, this was more of a reaction than a review.  I enjoyed it.  I’m looking forward to both Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (an upcoming Latin-American-themed spinoff about the same demonic possession, due in January) and Paranormal Activity 5 due next Halloween.  But, I also hope that the film-makers review their scare tactics and work a little harder to creep me out next time.

3/5 Stars.



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