★ ★ ★ out of 5 buckets | Matinee or Rental
Rated: R Language and some violence and terror
Release Date: October 19, 2012
Runtime: 1 hour 35 minutes
Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Writers: Christopher Landon, Chad Feehan
Cast: Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Brady Allen, Aiden Lovekamp, Stephen Dunham, Alexondra Lee
SYNOPSIS: In 2011, a woman and a young boy move in across from Alex, her brother Wyatt, and their parents. When the woman is hospitalized, Alex and her family take in the young Robbie, strange occurrences start to occur in Alex's house.
REVIEW: Catfish and Paranormal Activity 3 directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman return for a fourth go at the found footage franchise that centers around demonic forces and strange neighbors. In the fourth entry written by returning franchise writer Christopher Landon and joined by Beneath the Dark writer Chad Feehan.
Alex (Kathryn Newton, Bad Teacher) loves to talk her quasi boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively,True Jackson, VP) on her iPhone and via her laptop. While she gives Ben a tour of the house, they come across neighbor boy Robbie (Brady Allen, The Middle) hiding in their backyard playhouse. When Robbie's mother (Katie Featherston, Paranormal Activity 3) is whisked off to the hospital, Alex's mother Holly (Alexondra Lee) and father Doug (Stephen Dunham) take in the young boy Robbie. Bunking with Alex's younger brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp), Robbie starts to wander around the house in the middle of the night while everyone else sleeps. Alex and Ben rig all of the laptops to record continually to capture what Robbie finds so interesting during his 3am treks. When stranger things start to happen to Alex's house and brother Wyatt, she starts to suspect that Robbie and his invisible friend are the root cause.
Paranormal Activity focused on committed couple Micah and Katie who decide to tape the strange thumps and bangs that had taken over their home. At the end, Micah was killed and Katie disappeared. Paranormal Activity 2, running chronologically before, parallel, and after the first film, focuses on Katie's sister Kristi and her family. Kristi's husband Dan installs a complete security system after a break-in and starts to review the recorded footage that captured the eerie and terrifying activity in their own house. At the end, a bloody and shocky Katie takes the infant Hunter from her murdered sister and husband.Paranormal Activity 3, a true prequel to PA and PA2, focuses in the childhood of Katie and Kristi and the advent of the demonic forces that comes into their lives. In the first film, Micah was the one who used his period camcorder to capture evil spirits and bump in the night. In the second film, security cameras and a hand-held recorder are used. In part 3, a hand-held camera is used once again in 1988 to follow the genesis of the young Katie and Kristi. In the latest installment, the story takes place in 2011 where the digital age has dawned on smart phones and laptops alike.
Taking surveillance to the next level, directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman and writers Christopher Landon and Chad Feehan introduce a clever way to ghost hunt. Replacing bulky shoulder-held and hand-held camcorders of the past, Paranormal Activity 4 has gone digital. Instead of recording and editing equipment, or high end surveillance cameras and recorders, PA4 steps into the 21st century. These kids today! In an age where every 'cool' teen is connected to their iPhones as if it were an extension of their body, its seems only natural that they would chronicle their scary misadventures to the cloud. And while PA4 tries to keep the recording as natural as possible, the creative team has dropped the charade that every moment is perfectly choreographed to make sense that the cameras would be rolling. One added cool and novel technological feature is that the boyfriend Ben turns on the family's interactive gaming system's motion detector that sprays an array of dots throughout the entire room that is seen by a camera's infrared settings. It's clever and offers a couple cool opportunities to scare the bejesus out of some folks.
Like in Paranormal Activity 3, PA4 centers around the labor of children for most of the camera work. Alex is a curious teenager, but even with all of the footage proof, is not taken seriously by anyone but her boyfriend. The jeopardy Alex falls into feels more desperate than from the adults from the earlier films. The quartet of Alex, Ben, Wyatt and Robbie offers up amateur sleuthing to the degree of a bunch of kids driving around in a Mystery Machine with a Great Dane sprinkled with a nod of the cap to famous terrorized and terrifying kids from films like The Omen and The Shining. Shively's Ben wires up the house for Newton's Alex, but Alex is ill-equipped to access the digital data at the most important moments. Lovekamp's Wyatt, with his wide eyes and freckles, looks like he could have been in the running for Spielberg's E.T: The Extra Terrestrial. And for all of the Doberman Pincher lovers in the audience, the young Brady Allen who embodies the visiting chubby cheeked neighbor boy Robbie creeps you out just with his staring eyes and pouting lips, a la Damien. And I must give condolences to Alexondra Lee and the industry for the loss of husband and actor Stephen Dunham after this film's production.
Some will say that this entry in the franchise is the best and scariest yet. By changing the camera's perspective to Alex and her family, the missing Katie and the abducted infant Hunter become the bogeymen they deserve to be. The first three films serve up the origin and background for the demonic host known as the coven-backed Katie, living on as a specter and a bedtime story villain to tell children about.
Paranormal Activity 4 continues the storytelling that makes sense in the franchise that captured audience's imagination and screams. A little silly at times, PA4 uses edit jumps and misdirection to ramp up shocks while it builds to a crazy last ten minutes worth waiting for. If you like the series so far, you will feel the forces of evil beckoning you onward.
Chuck Ingersoll is the editor and movie reviewing contributor for Hot Butter Reviews. You can find hundreds of reviews at www.HotButterReviews.com.