The first installment of the “Paranormal Activity” franchise terrified moviegoers with its home video-style of camera work and the thrill of an unseen terror. The second, possibly more frightening than the first, unsettled viewers by including a baby in the haunting and revealed a deeper back story within the mythos. The third movie, while sporting some fantastic camera ingenuity and offering a healthy dosage of the creepy little girl factor, failed on a few plot points highlighted in the first two movies, despite being a direct prequel to them.
“Paranormal Activity 4” is a direct sequel to the events in movies one and two, and ups the terror factor in surprising ways.
As the adopted slogan goes: “All the activity has led to this.”
Five years after the possessed Katie (Katie Featherston, “Mutation”) kidnaps Hunter, a woman and her six-year-old boy move in to a suburban neighborhood across from Alex (Kathryn Newton, “Bad Teacher”), her little brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp, “The Time Being”) and their family. Once the boy, Robbie (Brady Allen), starts hanging around with Wyatt, terrifying things start to happen in the house. Alex and her boyfriend set up computers around the house to record everything through webcams, and what they find is more than a little unsettling.
“PA4” has a lot to make up for with the disappointment of “PA3” still fresh in fans’ minds. And while it answers some questions, it also creates new questions and revives some old ones.
Which, given the sense of finality you get from the ending, could be a bad thing.
Old question number one: why does the demon (called “Toby” in the prequel) want Hunter? It is established that he wants the first-born male heir to the family in payment for the deal allegedly made in the 1930s, but what he plans to ultimately do with the kid is unknown.
Old question number two: What purpose does the coven revealed to be active in “PA3” serve? Besides making a deal with the demon back in the day for wealth and power, what do they do? What is their overall purpose?
At the end of “PA4,” the demon has what it was promised it would, but one last old question still burns: What does it really want?
“Paranormal Activity 5,” anyone?
What “PA4” does deliver is a witty take on terror but not in the way that you would think. Alex serves as the stereotypical dumb blond in a horror movie, to the point of stupidity. There are more cheap-shot scares than in any of the previous movies. There is more lull between scares, especially near the beginning, than in previous installments as well.
But that just means that once the real scares start popping up, you don’t expect them. You’re waiting for the cheap shot, but then you’re thrown into terror after terror, with just enough lull between them for your heart to start beating normally again.
The webcam concept is great, offering some creepy backlighting at night, as well as sometimes-gritty camera quality. Alex also has a handheld camera she likes to carry around, so the range of footage is relatively complete. An Xbox Kinect also aids in the terror because of the unique way it captures motion. I won’t ruin it for you, but the Kinect’s tech adds more suspense to the footage, much like the fan cam in “PA3.”
Last but not least, Katie. Katie is definitely in the movie, and she’s more terrifying than ever. For those that remember her eerie smile and possessed killing spree in previous movies, this installment sees her on an entirely different level. She gets much more screen time than in “PA2,” and boy, does she use it well.
We’ll keep the ending under wraps, but trust me when I say that no viewer will see it coming. Watch it in theaters — after a marathon of the first three if you can swing it. You won’t be disappointed.
Movie: “Paranormal Activity 4”
Release Date: Oct. 18, 2012
Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Starring: Katie Featherstone