Paranormal Activity is back. The successful horror movie series patterned in the vein of "found footage" films is now on its fourth edition, and is now being screened in Philippine theaters starting today, November 21.
It is harder to justify the existence of Paranormal Activity 4 as compared to the movies before it. After all, the full mythology of the series has already been revealed in the previous three movies. In the first film, Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat), a couple get terrorized at night by a strange entity. In the second film, Katie’s sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden) gets terrorized herself, until the end when her infant son Hunter is kidnapped.
The third movie answers a lot of questions raised by the first two installments. Set in the past when Katie and Kristi were kids, it is revealed that their family is part of a cult that worships a demon-like entity. It is also revealed that the family’s lineage has not produced a male offspring for a long time, the male child being the requirement to fulfill a contract with the demon.
Paranormal Activity 4 happens a few years after the events of the second movie. When single mother Katie and a toddler named Robbie (Brady Allen) move into a house in the suburbs, their neighbors experience strange happenings in their own house.
One day, Katie is brought to the hospital, and the neighbors get to take care of Robbie for a few days. Instantly, teenager Alex (Kathryn Newton) and her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively) feel spooked by Robbie’s eccentric personality. To monitor the kid’s actions, they set up several laptops around the house to take round-the-clock footage.
The main issue with PA4 is that it does not significantly add to mythology of the series. Since all had been explained in the third film, PA4 feels predictable, and the ending can be guessed from a mile away.
There’s also not enough innovative set-ups that could rival the best of the franchise, particularly the fan-cam in the third film, and the kitchen tools falling from the ceiling in the second and third films.
Yet, there are some innovations in this PA4 that are notable enough to be considered by fans of the horror genre. The Kinect set-up is one, and the use of laptop cameras is another.
Some scenes are also memorably chilling. A lost knife ends up somewhere unexpected, and it is enough for a quick jump.
What PA4 correctly nails down is the appeal of the previous movies. The stationary cameras force viewers to look at the corners of the screen to see the horrific images. It feels like solving a puzzle, and so it feels satisfying when the scare is revealed and you’re the first one to see it.
PA4 is directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who rose to prominence after their controversial and award-winning documentary Catfish. The duo also directed the third film, which arguably is the best of the series.
(The first movie was directed by its creator Oren Peli, who has moved on to a producer role. Todd Williams directed the second movie.)
Paramount has confirmed plans to produce Paranormal Activity 5. Hopefully, Joost and Schulman can bring back the elements that made the previous movies such crowd-pleasers. That is if they get tapped again to direct.
Paranormal Activity 4 has been rated R-13 by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board.
Ed's Note: The "PEP Review" section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial team.