What Katie did – Paranormal Activity 4 review

Paranormal Activity 4 – Starring Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, and Katie Featherston. Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

Well, it was fun while it lasted kids. The ghost train shudders to a halt with Paranormal Activity 4, the first entry in the usually innovative series unable to produce any decent scares. While it still manages to induce a few cheap jumps on occasion, gone is the persistent and overwhelming sense of dread. And where the previous three pictures added to the increasingly intriguing mythology of the mischievous and malevolent demon that torments the saga’s poor souls, this one spins its narrative wheels ensuring that nobody could take away anything of value from it. I said in my review of Paranormal Activity 3 that this was still “the funnest ride at the fair.” The fairground hasn’t just closed down; it’s been torched.

As we discovered at the end of Part Three – a prequel – Katie (Katie Featherston) and Kristi (Sprague Grayden) had been inducted into a witches coven by their grandmother as children. Though their memories were wiped, a demonic spectre eventually possessed the adult Katie, who in turn murdered Kristi and kidnapped her baby Hunter. Five years later, we meet a suburban family who have unfortunately – though not coincidentally – raised the ire of that same malicious force. Teenage Alex (Kathryn Newton) and her platonic buddy Ben (Matt Shively) are suspicious of creepy little boy next door, Robbie (Brady Allen), but her parents (Stephen Dunham, Alexondra Lee) are too distracted by their own issues to pay any attention. Robbie moves in with them when his mother is mysteriously whisked away by an ambulance, and he frequently absconds with Alex’s 6-year-old brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp) for secret meetings. The teens decide to set up a bunch of webcams around the house to document Robbie’s peculiarities, and to hopefully figure out where all those booming noises he seemingly brought with him are coming from. You know what happens next.

Paranormal Activity 4 never adequately justifies the constant use of recording devices here, particularly considering how infrequently Alex actually checks the tapes. It makes little sense why she would record these ghostly goings-on if she never actually looks back on them. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, along with screenwriter Christopher Landon, introduce one notable new gimmick: the motion tracking sensor of an Xbox Kinect, only visible to a night vision camera. However, the emergence of an other-worldly and pixelated green figure amongst all those dots looks pretty silly, and only reminds us how smartly the lo-fi tricks in the original were deployed. As the budget for each subsequent film gets bigger, the inspiration dries up.

Think back to the opening frame of Oren Peli’s ingenious debut; a simple black screen with words of thanks from Paramount Pictures to the families of the subjects, and the San Diego Police Department. We can establish, then, that in this universe the authorities are aware of Katie’s killing spree, and are thus attempting to track her down. Why waste time on an instalment that teaches us nothing more about the nefarious witches coven that has ensnared these families, and merely seeks to return us to the same state we found ourselves at the conclusion of Part Two? Why not give us the footage recorded by a documentary crew following the SDPD as they go on the hunt for this murderous woman? With the exception of this entry, I consider the Paranormal Activity franchise one of the best and most consistent horror series of all time. With an inevitable fifth Paranormal Activity likely around the corner, perhaps the producers will attempt something slightly more innovative. Then again, Robbie does warn Alex that his “invisible friend” doesn’t like being watched. If the sequels are just going to devolve into unimaginative repetitions of the same shtick over and over again, maybe we should accept his request and turn the camera off for good.

The final shot is wonderfully disturbing, but it isn’t quite worth the trip it takes to get there. Joost and Schulman, perhaps in an admission that they don’t know how to bring any originality to the fore, work in some flagrant references to horror classics like The Shining and The Innocents, and they do inspire a few laughs. Newton and Shively also have nice comic chemistry. Ultimately though, the humour recalls a magician who reaches into his bag of tricks only to wind up empty handed, and instead asks the crowd, “OK, well, do you guys like jokes?”

2/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Paranormal Activity 4 is now showing in cinemas.

One Response to “What Katie did – Paranormal Activity 4 review”

  1. Priscilla Hernandez Reply October 20, 2012 at 3:05 am

    All I want to know is what happens at the end of PA 4?

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