After grossing in the region of $200m, it was inevitable that Paranormal Activity wasn’t going to remain a solitary entity for very long. I’m not complaining however, for me it’s become something of a Hallowe’en tradition to watch the latest instalment. Although it is hard to believe that the original was ever intended as part of something bigger, it achieved and surpassed its aims and is now onto its third sequel (and counting).
Paranormal Activity 4 continues this semblance of a story as Kristie (from the first film) and a young boy move in to a new house across from a sickeningly wholesome all-American family. The teenage daughter of this family, Alex, is our new protagonist. Conveniently, Alex and her boyfriend, Ben, are the latest in the list of amateur filmographers who happen to come in to contact with the demonic antagonist behind all of the ghoulish goings-on. Some of the supposedly found footage is quite implausible. For example, after a party at Alex’s house, love’s young dream are tidying up and Ben just happens to be filming. Admittedly, some of the captured happenings are among the most believable of the series, such as recordings made during a video chat between Alex and Ben.
Robbie, the strange young boy from across the street, moves in with the Wilsons when Kristie is rushed to hospital. His arrival marks the start of the odd occurrences in the household. He strikes up a friendship with the youngest member of the family, Wyatt. And then things start to get really weird. As per usual, the scares start off small and insignificant – the type of thing you would ignore as a coincidence or a trick of the light, like strange noises and objects moving slightly.
Eventually they progress through levels of terror, rising to a crescendo of horror in the last few scenes. Although some would argue that this formula has gotten stale, Paranormal Activity 4 makes just enough changes to stay fresh. It strays sufficiently from the established routine of everything being peachy during daylight and everything being dreadful at night by featuring more scares during the day, particularly during the first half, including an homage to The Shining featuring a child and a tricycle.
On the whole however,Paranormal Activity 4 is perhaps the least scary of the series with some incredibly cheap scares involving pets and completely ordinary loud noises. Having said that, it also manages to subvert some of the audience’s expectations, purposefully avoiding the chances where the previous incarnations would have leapt at the chance to throw some in. But it does continue the tradition of the only progress of the overarching story being in the last 10 minutes. At this point in the series the only reason to continue making sequels (apart from the obvious financial gains) is to see how the silly ‘coven’ story pans out, particularly as other found footage-based films, such as Chernobyl Diaries and Sinister, have surpassed it in storytelling and as a horror film.