Film review: Fourth installment of 'Paranormal Activity' is as spooky as ever

October 22, 2012|By BOB GARVER | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • "Paranormal Activity 4" is the fourth installment in the film series.
Paramount Pictures

For my review of "Paranormal Activity 3," I gave the film a star rating in two parts. I wrote that the overly familiar plot would be unimpressive to anyone who had seen the previous entries in the series, and for those people I gave the film a rating of two and a half stars. But for newcomers who didn't yet know what to expect and would therefore be in for a surprise, I gave the film three and a half stars.

For the franchise's fourth installment, I'm going to switch the star ratings around. I think that those familiar with the series will find more to like than those coming in with no frame of reference.

The film takes place about five years after the series' first and second installments, which ran simultaneously (the third was a prequel, and it took some sting out of the scares to know that the two little girls at the film's center would definitely make it out alive to appear in the second movie).

 You might remember that the second film ended with the evil Katie (Katie Featherston) kidnapping her nephew for unclear demonic purposes following multiple murders. The new film tries to get new viewers caught up on the storyline, but I don't think they'll be able to make any sense of the choppy introduction.

The new film features Alex (Kathryn Newton), a teenage girl filming the mundane events of her life. It's mostly stuff involving her immature boyfriend, her at-odds parents, and her little brother, Wyatt. Some strange things start happening with a neighbor boy named Robbie. His mother gets injured and he comes to stay with Alex and her family for a while. Needless to say, this really causes the weirdness to pick up, especially as Robbie and Wyatt start interacting with a mutual invisible (don't say "imaginary") friend named Toby. Alex and her boyfriend begin using computer cameras to monitor the house, which she is now convinced is haunted.

The scares are typical of the franchise. We get a lot of bangs, sudden movements, things popping into frame, and creepy things happening unbeknownst to the characters. Many of the early scares turn out to be red herrings and if you see the film with friends you can have some fun competing against each other in predicting the legitimacy of the next one. Unique to this installment is that the mere presence of Katie in a scene is to be treated as a reason to be scared. She might not have a scary look to her, but we know what she can do and she usually turns up where she isn't welcome.

Or at least fans of the series know what Katie can do. There are a lot of scenes in the movie that will be appreciated by fans that will go over the heads of newcomers. I saw the film with a responsive crowd and everybody welcomed back Katie, Toby, and even the title cards that tell us what night it is. Longtime viewers know that these elements, as well as the slow build and fake-outs are an important part of the films' style. Newer viewers may not have the patience for such a setup, but true fans watch these films just as much for the journey as the destination.

Speaking of the destination, the last five minutes of "Paranormal Activity 4" are terrific. The finale had my audience screaming and then laughing at themselves for screaming. An enthusiastic crowd can easily turn a simple screening into a party, and this is especially true with horror films. When the screen turned to black, I applauded and announced that I would see everybody next year. I'm sure there will be a "Paranormal Activity 5" and I can't wait to see it with a few hundred friends.

Three and a Half Stars if you've seen the other "Paranormal Activity" movies.

Two and a Half Stars if you haven't.

"Paranormal Activity 4" is rated R for language and some violence/terror. Its running time is 88 minutes.

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