Oversimplified ‘Paranormal Activity 4’ Insults Your Horror Intelligence Amid Waning Franchise

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Average: 2.3 (6 votes)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.0/5.0
Rating: 2.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Following the first “Paranormal Activity” in 2007, which is most profitable film of all time based on return on investment, filmmakers Jason Blum, Oren Peli and Henry Joost have made a killing for Paramount Pictures.

But with one movie a year since the second one in 2010, these low-budget films with small casts and no-name actors are showing fatigue and that they are overstaying their generous welcome with Friday’s release of “Paranormal Activity 4”.

Brady Allen in Paranormal Activity 4
Brady Allen stars in “Paranormal Activity 4”.
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

The only novel plot device used in the fourth film – though used too often – is the Xbox Kinect from Microsoft. When turned on and used normally, the Kinect just makes your body the game controller by tracking your movements. But while viewing the room through a night-vision camera in green lighting, you apparently see the countless projection-tracking dots.

That’s then used in the film, of course, to pick up paranormal Boogeymen. It’s actually an innovative and clever ghost-hunting tool that provides one ounce of novel filmmaking this time around. Beyond that, though, nothing’s new.

Newcomer Kathryn Newton (from TV’s “Gary Unmarried”) as Alex is at the center this time in a film that mostly uses the exact same formula. She knows something’s wrong with newcomer creepy kid actor Brady Allen (who plays Robbie), but of course, her parents are too busy and grown up to listen. Robbie befriends Alex’s brother, Wyatt, who is played by the adorable Aiden Lovekamp.

Kathryn Newton in Paranormal Activity 4
Kathryn Newton stars in “Paranormal Activity 4”.
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

Matt Shively (from TV’s “True Jackson, VP”) plays Alex’s boyfriend, Ben. His light-hearted, innocent character is actually enjoyable amid a story that shows very little advancement from previous themes. Ben is dating Alex in that “keep your bedroom door open” kind of way. All the while, Alex is exploited by the “R”-rated film as – it has to be said – as “PG”-rated jail bait.

Now Robbie is forced by the trying-too-hard story line to shack up at Wyatt’s house for a few days because his mysterious mom allegedly gets sick and has to disappear. Robbie has nowhere else to go, so he shows up with a toothbrush, a very valuable antique fork (a plot red herring) and a stuffed animal. After he gets settled in, Robbie’s often seen talking to himself or to malevolent spirits at 3 a.m. after climbing out of Wyatt’s bunk bed.

While the fourth film reminds us of Katie’s (played by Katie Featherston) violent and paranormal murder from the third and her and nephew Hunter’s disappearance, you’ll never guess who mothers Robbie. (Clue: The name rhymes with Schmatie.)

Kathryn Newton in Paranormal Activity 4
Kathryn Newton stars in “Paranormal Activity 4”.
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

So, it’s no surprise that Robbie brings with him the same paranormal activity we’ve seen three times before. Alex is the only smart one to recognize it and try to fight it.

The film uses simple setups for every scream: silence, little screen motion and you pan your eyes around. You’re looking for something out of the ordinary or ghostly, and then – bam! – something’s loud or fast or paranormal. You may or may not scream and you may or may not feel a sinking in your stomach, but you laugh at the stupidity or the enjoyment of your own silly reaction even though you knew you’d do it each time.

The shots show timestamps, so more than half the time as the film gets increasingly paranormal, you can unrealistically expect something to happen based on the fact that the spy cams are shown in the film at that exact moment.

Kathryn Newton in Paranormal Activity 4
Kathryn Newton stars in “Paranormal Activity 4”.
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

After each scream setup, the film insults and mocks your intelligence. “Paranormal Activity 4” plays to people who are unwilling to think, don’t want to or actually can’t engage a well-constructed and deep plot that delves beyond surface-level door slams and quick “boo!” scare-and-jump scenes.

We know the people involved with this film know how to do this right. Jason Blum, who has produced all four of these films, reminded us how to make a truly scary film as recently as one week ago with the release of “Sinister” (the best horror film of 2012 so far).

“Paranormal Activity,” which released in Sept. 2009 and was made for a mere $15,000, has grossed more than $193 million worldwide. While the second film was made for $3 million, the third for $5 million and the fourth for $5 million, each film feels like an unnecessary continuation of the same theme that just presses on to make more money.

Katie Featherston in Paranormal Activity 4
Katie Featherston stars in “Paranormal Activity 4”.
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

While “Paranormal Activity 4” opened in the top spot at the box office on Friday, its gross was much lower than the last two films in the franchise. The film earned an estimated $15 million on Friday, which includes $4.5 million from 9 p.m. and midnight showings.

Still, the debut was far off from the $26.3 million start of “Paranormal Activity 3” and even lower than the $20.1 million start of “Paranormal Activity 2”. Paramount is expecting $33.5 million for the opening weekend from “Paranormal Activity 4,” which is a huge decrease from the last movie’s record-setting $52.6 million.

“Paranormal Activity 4,” which opened on Oct. 19, 2012, stars Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Brady Allen, Alisha Boe and Tommy Miranda from producers Jason Blum and Oren Peli, directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman and writers Christopher Landon and Chad Feehan. The film, which has a short running time of 88 minutes, is rated “R” for language and some violence and terror.

HollywoodChicago.com publisher Adam Fendelman


© 2012 Adam Fendelman, HollywoodChicago.com LLC

Whisper's picture

‘INSIDIOUS’ is your

INSIDIOUS’ is your example of a scary movie? It was absolutely ridiculous. Whatever scenes it didn’t lazily steal from other horror movies were ludicrious and contrived, the medium and her aides were embarrassing, and the dialog was just cheesy. The only other recent movie I could say was worse was ‘The Devil Inside.’ Did either film actually have writers, or did they just throw darts at a board of horror movie cliches?

Say what you will about the ‘Paranormal Activity’ films, they know how to play an audience to maximum effect. We had a packed crowd tonight and it was as much fun to watch everyone react to the scares as watching the movie itself. The characters are always real and likeable and whatever you expect to happen, they usually build it up with maddening suspence and then hit you with something completely opposite.

How you didn’t feel your intelligence wasn’t mocked by ‘Insidious’, I couldn’t say.

HollywoodChicago.com's picture

"Sinister" -- not "Insidious"

Whisper wrote:
INSIDIOUS’ is your example of a scary movie? It was absolutely ridiculous.

That reference was to Jason Blum’s “Sinister” — not “Insidious”.

Nancy123's picture


Great review. I feel like I got robbed 30 dollars after watching PA4

Anonymousss's picture

It's BEN

Just wanted to let you know that Alex’s boyfriend’s name is BEN. Not Alex. I agree with your review. Just not that part.

HollywoodChicago.com's picture


Anonymousss wrote:
Just wanted to let you know that Alex’s boyfriend’s name is BEN. Not Alex. I agree with your review. Just not that part.

Corrected. Thank you.

SteveAsat's picture

Say rather that PA4 is not for the impatient or the unimaginativ

You should probably stick with slasher films if you fail to get any fright from the PA franchise. Aside from Daniel Myrick’s consistently good movies, PA have been the only (non-comedy) horror films of this century that I HAVEN’T felt were insulting my intelligence. The stories always have an unsettling undertone of child abuse, with characters offering brief glimpses into a lifetime of alienation and dread that even the privacy-invading cameras cannot reveal. Recurring themes include: Adults or spouses who don’t take warnings seriously…children or partners who become uncommunicative as they lose hope…the sudden, horrifying revelation of how vast and incomprehensible are the forces intent on harming you…and death depicted in all its split-second, irrevocable meaninglessness. This makes for excellent, thinking-person’s horror. The question of how and why this family is cursed has been explored well in the first three films, and now we see how insidiously the circle is spread. Firm answers are never given, of course, only hints that inspire the darkest parts of one’s imagination. After all, we never found out exactly why Jack Nicholson went mad in The Shining, and a story that tried too hard to explain it would just be an episode of CSI.

And that doesn’t even take into account the ingenuity required to keep the candid-camera mechanic fresh in each new installment. Watching webcam-savvy characters cope with this scenario was refreshing, albeit every bit as futile as Katie’s father with his VHS cameras.

BTW, Hunter was Katie’s nephew, not her son. That’s why she calls herself “Aunt Katie” near the end of the film when talking with him. The theft of children from their natural parents is a big part of the horror in these films. That’s a detail I’d expect a viewer looking for a “well-constructed and deep plot” to notice.

Diana Will's picture


This is really a nice review. When I saw paranormal activity for the first time, I really believed that what happens in it is really true. Actually I had nightmares for many days. Thanks a lot for sharing this post.

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