Paranormal Activity 4 (2012): Flogging a Dead Horse


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After watching this fourth trip to the Paranormal “well” several metaphors sprang immediately to mind. The first one became part of the title; Flogging a dead horse, the second was hinted at in my first sentence; going to the well once too often and the third was, appropriately enough, trying to get milk when the cow’s run dry.

I am sure that I could think of more “sayings” to describe my feelings about this film; I know I had 97 minutes to come up with as many as my little brain could conceive. Since this fourth bite of the Paranormal Activity apple (see there’s another one) was poorly conceived and perhaps the most boring of all the PA’s to date.

Just in case you’re interested, and I realise that you probably aren’t but bear with me here, the film was directed by the team of  Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman which actually amazes me. This is the same team that brought us the incredible and exemplary 2010 documentary film Catfish and the “miles-better-than-this-rubbish” 2011 Paranormal Activity 3. It completely boggles the brain that two such capable film directors would willingly put their names on such dross.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like the Paranormal franchise. I enjoyed the first ultra low-budget film and did not mind the second one with its slightly larger budget. And since the third one took the story in a different direction, I quite enjoyed that one as well. I did think, however, that they should have stopped at 3.

The film starts with a short “home video” of Aunt Katie (the crazy one from the first film) bringing a present to nephew Hunter. The location is Carlsbad, CA and the setting of the second film – sis’ house. The screen then goes dark and proceeds to tell us that Hunter was kidnapped.

Auntie Katie trespassing...uh-oh.
Auntie Katie trespassing…uh-oh.

We are then treated to a replay of the end of the second film. Okay! With me so far? Now at the beginning of the film no mention, however oblique, is made of the third in the series. It will be referred to later but in a very off-handed fashion and you have to be looking for it. I was bored so I noticed it.

After being treated to a “soccer” game with a group of young boys, one of whom is not playing but standing at one end of the pitch with what appear to be giant worry beads around his neck, we meet our main protagonist’s for this part of the saga.

Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp), older sister Alex (Kathryn Newton), Mum Holly  (Alexondra Lee ), Dad Doug (Stephen Dunham ) and a little later boyfriend Ben ( Matt Shively ). This is the family that will be drug into the paranormal verse. We also meet their next-door neighbours son Robbie (Brady Allen ) who gets taken in when his mother gets sent to the “hospital.”

It will come as no surprise that Robbie’s “mother” is Katie (Katie Featherston ) from the first film.

The plot device in this version of Paranormal Activity is the use of mobile (cell) phone cameras and webcams (or Skype or iChat) to record the events as they “oh so slowly” unfold. Despite the use of sound (they utilise the “rumbling” sound to the maximum extent possible) the pace and the tension are just not there.

In this film they included the ability of the “demon” to manifest in daylight and someone came up with the bright idea of using the Xbox Kinect “night-vision” setting to “see” the demon or deity or whatever it is in the dark. I got quite annoyed. My Kinect doesn’t have that setting and if it does, I’ve never seen it mentioned anywhere. So you have to ask yourself the question. Does Kinect really have that capability or is this a phoney baloney device set up by the film’s producer’s and director’s?

I want to see scary shit with my Kinect damn it!
I want to see scary shit with my Kinect damn it!

Who knows?

More importantly, who cares?

Certainly not me, I felt incredibly let down by this film. It did not look like the rest, even with the re-appearance of Katie from the first film. The family was too attractive. They did not have the same “real” look as the other casts for the other films. Alex and her family looked like any casting director’s idea of an upper-middle class American as apple-pie family. Although I could be wrong about their salary tier. I’m not sure how many houses in America have a computer to tell them that: “The garage door is opening.”

On a side note, I noticed that Jennifer Hale, the voice actress for the female Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect verse was credited as doing some voice-over work in the film, I wonder if she was the computerised voice that announced the doors opening and closing. If she was, how cool is that! 

Okay, geeky fanboy rant over, I’ll try to sum up my lukewarm feelings about the film.

I’d have to give it a 2 stars out of 5 and it only gets that much because I did jump once during the film. I am glad that I did not see this at the cinema as I would have thrown my popcorn at the screen and demanded my money back. Okay, I am exaggerating a little bit here, I wouldn’t ask for my money back.

Avoid this fiasco of a film and if it comes on regular telly…change the channel.

Even Alex is unimpressed by this film.
Even Alex is unimpressed by this film.

Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, http://MikesFilmTalk.com Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

21 thoughts on “Paranormal Activity 4 (2012): Flogging a Dead Horse”

  1. Good review Mike. Not as scary as the last three entries in the series, but still a bit creepy at times and still has some fun with itself. However, I do wish that they gave it some more thought in how cool and original they wanted the scares to be.

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  2. Okay, I’m not as unkind about this film as a lot of other reviewers have been. Yes, it was cheesy and no, it didn’t really seem like a Paranormal Activity film, but I found my self liking it nonetheless. What really disturbed me was that I thought Alex was such a lovely young girl and I felt like such a dirty old man for thinking such a thing. Oh, and I think Katie Featherston is pretty damn attractive, too. She’s kinda closer to my age. There, I have redeemed myself.:D

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    1. You kind of nailed my main problem with the film, everyone in it was like Alex…too attractive. Like, “Hollywood attractive.” That sort of took away from the film. Thanks for commenting mate.

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      1. You’re always welcome. Did you know that Stephen Dunham, the actor who portrayed Doug, the father, died about a month before the film’s release?

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  3. It’s about anticipation and PA4 delivered as well as any of the others from this franchise. I understand that some hate this series while others love it, but I don’t get how some praise any one installment, but crucify another one – they’re mostly the same; which to me is good b/c each installment is subtle, and unpredictable. Even part 4.

    I don’t see how one can say that “The Possession” is better than any of the PA installments, or in this case PA4. Was there anything that happened in “The Possession” that wasn’t totally predictable? It followed a beat-sheet to the exact tee and left 0 room for flexibility!

    On PA4 when the mom was in the kitchen cutting up food and she hears a noise and turns and the butcher knife shoots to the ceiling – and then she turned around and wondered where her knife went…you mean to tell me you didn’t feel tense? You weren’t just waiting for that knife to come flying back down? You wait. And you wait. And you wait. The director is building anticipation. THAT is good storytelling. Making you WONDER what’s going to happen next.

    I think people are too consumed by action and wanting to see gore, and killing, etc. but that’s not what this series is about. I love the PA franchise and EVERY installment b/c you know that the first 3 quarters of the film is building up to something – and then the final act always pays off in spades; yes, even in PA4! That was one of the creepiest endings I have seen! I did see this at the theater and after that ending the theater went silent, and people were stunned. Maybe PA4 wasn’t as enjoyable on a smaller screen. I don’t know. But that ending was creepy. It sure beat the hell out of “The Possession”‘s lackluster, and recycled ending.

    I think another thing that throws people off about PA is there is no score, and no loud chords to jump out at you while trying to rile up a scare. I hate that tactic! The visual on-screen should be what creeps me out; not an intrusive ear-ringing! PA4 didn’t rely on such tactics to deliver a creepy ending.

    I know a lot of people complain PA4 is too slow, but part of the genius of the film is to set you up and make you feel like something is about to happen……..and then it doesn’t. Our brains have been conditioned to expect certain things from horror movies, and the PA franchise plays with that mindset and sets you up…..and then goes in another direction. And it seems people can’t handle that and want to see the same thing over and over.

    I have been on-edge for every minute of each installment b/c you NEVER know what’s about to happen! What other franchise can say that? It’s like you get set-up to think somethings about to happen and you brace yourself and wait for it, and wait for it – and then nothing happens, and you automatically think “Man, this is boring! Nothing happened!” But something did happen…you were on edge preparing and bracing yourself for something to happen…and that’s a sign of great directing; and then just when you think nothing is going to happen again…something unexpectedly does happen.

    I love the franchise and hope they make as many installments as they can as long as they can keep it unpredictable.

    If you’re going in to PA4 thinking the series is about to wrap and all the answers will be revealed then you will disappointed…but if you go in and just want to enjoy a creepy horror film then this does deliver.

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  4. I loved PA3, thought it was the best in the series. But the awful reviews of part 4 put me off, and you are saying the same things, doesnt appear as though Im missing anything!

    Nice write up as always buddy 🙂

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  5. Excellent write up. I reviewed this a while back. 2.5 out of 5. Holy boring Batman!

    Nothing happens and when something does its the same as past movies. I thought the first was ok. A little sluggish but great final act. Overall decent watch. I only saw part 2 once and enjoyed it. Felt a bit more staged but a little more entertaining with another solid final act.

    PA 3 has its moments but for me mostly a bore but PA4 was dreadful

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      1. I think after this I’m done with the series. Same thing over and over again. While I don’t need gore F/X (not that I mind either) but at least other films even when the same story we have some carnage.

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