Fantastic Fest Review: Paranormal Activity 4

A new family, a few new twists, the same found footage gimmick. 'This is Paranormal Activity, mofos!'

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


The version of Paranormal Activity 4 they screened at Fantastic Fest is still called a work in progress. Henry Joost introduced the film and said he and Ariel Schulman are still tweaking the visual effects and sounds, but it’s possible they could still switch out alternate takes or shoot new scenes in a month. Maybe I’m reviewing a bizarro cut that no one else will ever see. Just in case this is the same version that will be released, here is my review.

Now the plots of Paranormal Activity movies are supposed to be mysterious so I don’t want to spoil it. There’s also no official credits and I’m told IMDB is inaccurate so I can only be so specific about the characters too. This is the first sequel that moves forward in time though, and introduces a new family. Wyatt and his sister are the main ones involved in the paranormal activity, and her boyfriend sets up his own unique system for recording it. Katie (Katie Featherston) does show up again, and a neighborhood boy Robbie provides many of the creeps.

So we know the language of Paranormal Activity movies. The teenage sister will be videotaping more than really makes sense but it’s part of the charm. We’ll see some footage of people sleeping and scan the frame for what might be out of the ordinary. Some people will be dragged out of frame from behind. Paranormal Activity 4 comes up with some new tricks with webcams and a Microsoft Kinect. How modern!

There’s no camera setup as interesting as the homemade fan-camera in 3, but they do set up a new toolbox. When the boyfriend reveals that the computer automatically recorded her sleeping, it’s like, “Yeah, it did! This is Paranormal Activity, mofos!”

By part four, Schulman and Joost know what we’re expecting so they have a little fun with fakeouts, and throw in some iconography from other classic horror movies. When it comes to the actual scares, there’s nothing as monumental as some of their one-take gags in 3, like the falling kitchen. However, the spirit in PA4 seems deadlier than before. This one is really trying to kill this family, not just mess with them. The attacks aren’t as showy but they’d kill you faster.

Since the protagonists are teenagers, Paranormal Activity 4 has a bit more of the generational conflict where the parents just don’t believe them. The adults are so involved with repairing their home damage they neglect their daughter’s needs. They had a little of that with the kids in 3 but with kids parents can be a little sympathetic to the imagination. Teenagers are just screwed.

This is a lukewarm positive review but that’s because I’ve always thought these movies were gimmicks with a little bit of mythology. 2 and 3 were really impressive. 4 is just fun, exploits the gimmick and furthers the story a little.