Here we are; another October, another PARANORMAL ACTIVITY film. The supernatural series has become a dominant, seasonal movie-going attraction ever since Oren Peli’s first film attracted studio attention and spawned into the box office juggernaut that we know today. For years Lionsgate’s torture-horror franchise, Saw like Paranormal, started as a micro-budget indie film), was the reigning champ, and something I had become accustomed to seeing every year. It was my generation’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, for better or worse, and despite the apparent fatigue of ideas in the films as they went on, I enjoyed watching them. The same can be said for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, which has now reached it’s 4th entry. But like all long standing film series, it’s starting to hit a proverbial roadblock, and show signs of franchise fatigue.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 is the first sequel, in order of timeline, since 2 & 3 both were prequels and dealt with events prior to Katie & Micah’s encounter with the demonic entity known as Toby. PA4 picks up about 5 years after the event of PA2 (where a possessed Katie kidnapped baby Hunter and disappeared), and centers around a family in Nevada that begins to experience spooky occurrences when Robbie, a young neighborhood boy, bunks with them after his Mother is unexplainably hospitalized. Robbie beings to take a keen interest with the family’s youngest, Wyatt, leading to teenage sister Alex and her tech savy boyfriend Ben to investigate Robbie’s peculiar sleep schedule, which involves him walking around the house late at night, and talking to an “imaginary friend” that only he can see.
The tagline that accompanies that marketing for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4, the latest installment in Paramount and Blumhouse’s successful found footage franchise, states that “all the activity has led to this”. After catching a midnight screening earlier this morning, I can say it doesn’t lead to much. However, there are an abundant of effect scares, and majorly creepy moments that will definitely make you jolt and possibly want to keep your light on while you sleep. It’s just exudes a “been there, done that” feel, but to this reviewer it was still worth the price of admission. Returning directing duo Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman injected a lot of fresh ideas with Paranormal Activity 3, and greatly expanded the mythology that was touched upon in the preceding films. PARANORMAL 4 feels like a step back in terms of fleshing out the mythology, by which I mean it’s not touched on till the films’ final moments, and it raises more questions than answers.
Each film has some sort of new way of presenting a scare through use of technology. Paranormal 3 had a VHS camcorder mounted to an oscillated fan that elicited some mighty fine shrieks; Paranormal 4 has surveillance Macbooks and motion tracking dots provided by an Xbox Kinect. Annoying product placement aside, this tactic is quite eerie and one of the films highlights. Although, this entry feels more like connective tissue than a film that could standalone on it’s own merits. At this point it rightfully caters more towards enthusiastic fans of the series than newcomers, but when the payoff is minimal (the ending does pack one hell of a wallop, it’s just short lived) for those fans, it is a bit lackluster. While it is enjoyable and ideal for an October scare, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 is a bit of a let down. Let’s hope things get back on track when the inevitable sequel hits theaters next year.