When it comes to horror, less is usually more. And with the “Paranormal Activity” series, it is apparently so much more that it has prompted the release of a fourth movie. While the movie delivers the familiar, likable chills and thuds of the previous films, it follows such a long series that its well of scares has started to run dry.
This time, “Paranormal Activity 4” moves from California to Nevada to follow 15-year-old Alex (Kathryn Newton) and her family. When a new neighbor is hospitalized, the family takes in the victim’s son, Robbie (Brady Allen), for a few days. Strange noises and mysterious images appear on camera with increasing frequency soon after.
The writing is typical “Paranormal Activity” grade. It contains some everyday lines, which the actors rattle off with casualness in the beginning and with bland frustration in the end. Allen is the most memorable as the quintessential creepy kid, with his unnerving expression and cold lines.
Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, also the directors of “Paranormal Activity 3,” have certainly mastered the successful formula of the previous films: an exposition in a sunny rural home that establishes the characters, and a handheld camera system. In the case of this film, Alex’s friend Ben (Matt Shively) sets up the family’s numerous laptops to record the happenings. After a slow build-up involving some false scares, tension mounts when some actual strange activity occurs.
Even the most hardcore “Paranormal Activity” fans may find this movie predictable. It uses the same game of camera roulette to cycle through the various shots of a sleeping house, trying to keep the audience guessing where the next loud stop or moving object will occur. The rate of the escalation of scares feels rather straightforward; the only exciting new scare tactic involves a Nintendo Wii. At night, the sensors of the Wii, combined with a night vision camera, allow for some cool motion-detection shots of ghosts.
In addition to the predictability of scares, their scarcity makes the film feel especially insubstantial. It could partially be because of their expectancy, but there seemed to be less activity, paranormal or otherwise, that really sticks out. With the exception of the Wii scenes, as well as ones involving a knife and then a bathtub, the film relies on its same old grab bag of tricks.
In addition, this film seems to follow its predecessors by revealing more of the mythology of the ghost through the characters conducting research on the Internet. But while the previous films revealed at least some new story elements, the ones emphasized in “Paranormal Activity 4” show almost nothing new. In fact, it’s mostly repetition of elements the audiences who have seen the other films probably knew already.
One of the film’s most obvious cheap tricks involves quick cuts prior to a scare scene. If the film holds its scare until a minute or two later, or in an attempt to cut out time, the camera frequently jumps without warning to a different part of the scene. The technique pops up repeatedly and is especially disappointing when a startling change amounts to so little.
In the spirit of Halloween, the film makes some obvious references to classic horror films. The most obvious is probably in dedication to “The Shining,” when in “Paranormal Activity 4,” Alex’s brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp) rides around on a plastic tricycle on the hardwood floor.
The film’s climax is also the most disappointing of the four films. Not only does it arrive and end too suddenly, but also it draws heavily from a previous movie in terms of frightening aspects.
“Paranormal Activity 4” leaves the possibility for another film wide open, because this film does not fully resolve the story with finality. However, this fourth film leaves more to be desired. With its predictable scares and unsatisfactory attempt at enhancing the story, “Paranormal Activity 4” disappoints as a holiday horror film.
Overall rating: 2 stars
When it comes to horror, less is usually more. And with the “Paranormal Activity” series, it is apparently so much more that it has prompted the release of a fourth movie.