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Capones says PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 still has solid spookhouse scares, but it's time to wrap things up!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

They may not look pretty or come across as especially sophisticated, but watching the fourth installment (as I have the previous three) of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY series with an audience, one thing becomes abundantly clear: the folks the make these movies know how to wind up and freak out an audience. Watching PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies is unlike viewing any other films in a given year.

There's something of a formula (thanks to title cards that read Day 1, Day 3, Day 11, etc.). We learn to look at a series of static shots with a keener eye than we do most other horror films. We're scanning every corner of the frame for movement or a shadowy figure or a swinging light fixture--any sign of a ghostly presence. I love that moment when a new scene starts, and inevitably someone in the audience will whisper "Uh oh." The latest ads for PA4 have night-vision shots of a preview audience jumping, screaming, and otherwise getting antsy while watching the film. I was skeptical that the audience I saw it with would follow suit, but I'll be damned if they didn't. The fear was genuine, the screams well earned, even if the particular story in this new installment is a little threadbare.

In the timeline of the story of the demonized Katie (Katie Featherston), PA4 is the most recently set of the four films. She and the son she stole from her sister in PA2 have moved into a new home, across the street from a teenage girl Alice (Kathryn Newton, who I recognized from Bad Teacher), whose family--parents and younger brother--agree to take care of Katie's "son" for a few days when she supposedly goes into the hospital. Considering I'm pretty sure Alice's parents have never even met Katie, it seems odd that they would take in her kid, but OK...

The two young boys start hanging out even thought Katie's kid is a freak, and pretty soon weird things start happening in the house, either being caused by this little stranger or something that's watching over him--an invisible friends of sorts. Since this is yet another found footage film, the excuse for having camera in most rooms of the house is that Alice's boyfriend (the quite funny Matt Shively) secretly converts every computer in the house into a camera at her behest so she can review footage of these strange occurrences. When the boyfriend isn't actually in the house, he and Alice are video chatting, so we get to see her approximate narration as she's conveying stories to him about the titular activity.

Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (PA3 and CATISH) do their usual job of slowly ramping up the scares, and I've said before, in a movie like this, if it can consistently scare me, I'm hooked. I'd even go so far as to guess that PA4 has more frequent scares than its predecessors. The hits just keep on coming. The film's deepest flaw is Featherston. She's a good actress at playing regular Katie, but I never found her particularly menacing when she's prowling around the neighborhood or inside someone's house. She does some pretty horrific things to certain people in this movie, but I never got a sense of danger or dread off of her. When she switches on the demon face, that's a different story. But her dead-eyed creeping around did nothing for me.

Fortunately, Katie isn't the scary centerpiece of the film--that honor belongs to both of the little boys and a series of terrifying moments carried out by unseen forces. PA4 also brings back into the series this idea from the previous film that some sort of coven of women has a hand in all of this childnapping. The funny thing about this series is that if the good guys win, the series is done, so we always basically know who's going to die or live to see the next installment. But if we're not rooting for the ghosts to continue scaring us, then how will we continue having fun year after year?

Storywise, PA4 is probably the weakest of the bunch, but who's really watching these for story? Actually, I am. I want there to be an understandable thread that binds this franchise together, and certain things feel a bit fuzzy and random here. These aren't unforgivable offenses, and they certainly don't stop the scary from happening. Who knows where they'll take us for the next chapter, but I'm still on board with only slightly less enthusiasm than prior to seeing PA4. And while it may not match it in terms of frequency of big scream-worthy moments, SINISTER is still the better movie overall in this current crop of recent horror releases.

-- Steve Prokopy
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Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 19, 2012, 3:58 p.m. CST

    Could have used some spoilers warnings, punk.

    by drompter

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 4:07 p.m. CST

    These movies are so easy. They literally put a camera on a swivel

    by Kelly Grimes

    In the 3rd one and let it go. You could do that for 2 hrs and people would be nervous the entire time, constantly watching for some change on the pan-back, or waiting for that demon to jump out and scream. I respect that they get the scares, but I feel like they don't need to work hard at anything else. The scripts are always bland and the characters just cardboard cutouts. But as long as the cameras are set and reset ad nauseum, people will always feel that tingle of suspense, so I guess nothing else matters? That said, I don't hate this franchise. Just bored of it.

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 4:09 p.m. CST

    This franchise cured my insomnia - thank you!

    by MajorFrontbum

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 4:14 p.m. CST

    saw this. it's the worst of the 4.

    by Jubba

    the build ups are good, but the payoffs are not. it just ended up being a boring experience. spend your time and money on something else. jubba out.

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 4:39 p.m. CST

    Or this could just be a shitty movie.

    by kindofabigdeal

  • Just as Capone states - "We learn to look at a series of static shots with a keener eye than we do most other horror films. We're scanning every corner of the frame for movement or a shadowy figure .." I've called it the Where's Waldo of horror films. Someone else has called them basically surveillance tapes. Thats what they are, and the audience is the "inspector" looking for evidence and clues. So the audience is involved and active while watching, making reactions more intense. I'm not saying they're good films, but damn clever in their audience manipulation.

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 4:52 p.m. CST

    nice will give it a look.

    by frank

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 6:33 p.m. CST

    It's running out of gas.

    by PorkChopXpress

    I know the studio must love this franchise to death for being so cheap to produce and so popular, but the storyline is thinning out rapidly and there's only so long I can buy into the "found footage" aspect, before it's just..."yeah, right." In fact, I'm there now. If the story doesn't advance the mythology in any meaningful way, then it's just a Halloween cash grab and that's just irritating, when the original couple movies were so great (the third was just "okay," to me).

  • ...which will take this franchise to new levels of WHOGIVESAFUCK!

  • you're welcome

  • Oct. 19, 2012, 9:04 p.m. CST

    Her name was Alex

    by Celicynd

    Not Alice. I can't take any stock (whether it was good or bad) when the reviewer can't even get the correct name of a character.

  • I give Paranormal Activity a pass because it was made for under a million bucks. So the fact that it was boring as fuck, not scary and had horrible acting, what do you expect? But the next two movies do the same bullshit. But all of these trailers that show people screaming is total bullshit. I saw Paranormal Activity in a full theater and no one screamed at all. I waited to see the next two on dvd, cause I didn't want to waste my time. But every time thy show audience reaction shots in a movie, it's the most unscary movie ever.

  • Oct. 20, 2012, 12:15 a.m. CST

    re: cobb05

    by mcgillj

    I have no doubt they only show the most EXTREME jumpers.. but sadly some people actually find that stuff SCARY. I went to PA3, I thought what the hell.. and a friend said the first 2 were good.. sorry.. I was SUPPOSED to be watching the screen for something to NOT happen? and that's the FUN of the movie? I was bored out of my ever loving mind.. I had more fun watching the half wits almost jump out of their chair when a cat jumped out.. or a book fell off a shelf.. thrilling stuff!!!

  • When the Paranormal Activity movies started being treated with legitimacy by people who weren't high schoolers

  • Oct. 20, 2012, 6:50 a.m. CST

    Four of these things make money...

    by BiggusDickus

    ...but no-one goes to see Dredd. God bless America.

  • Oct. 20, 2012, 7:33 a.m. CST

    Next film should be about someone fighting back

    by TheSecondQuest

    They have to move the series in a different direction. Have someone who finds the footage of the first four movies and uses it to combat the demon (ie: it can't move through walls/doors so physical obstacles can be used to one's advantage, IR lights can help detect it, it doesn't like crosses, etc). Make everything seem like it builds to something useful that way. The equivalent of the Dream Warriors, in a way.

  • Oct. 20, 2012, 9:10 a.m. CST

    Absolutely loved "Catish" myself

    by RockLobster800

    Oh come one! Someone had to do it!

  • Oct. 20, 2012, 11:39 a.m. CST

    Saw it opening night at midnight in IMAX. It's become a tradition.

    by Detective_Fingerling

    My favorite, by far, was part 2. The third one felt like the series was declining, but it was entertaining, in that, they went back to the 80s and had to use ingenuity to capture images. Using the xbox was an amazing way to continue that ingenuity, but the plot holes were a little excessive when I thought about it later. I can't stand shitty horror films (like House of the Dead), but I can get through these PA movies and have a lot of fun doing so. These movies can't be the slightest bit effective when watching them at home on dvd or blu ray, but watching them with a young audience that buys into the experience really does create a better movie. I can jump on just about any hate wagon, but I don't understand the ire this series gets from some people. It's the closest thing to going to Universal Studios. This was the worst of the series though. Little in the way of adding a new layer to the series for future installments.

  • Oct. 20, 2012, 12:02 p.m. CST

    SPOILER questions

    by Detective_Fingerling

    ***Don't read if you don't like spoilers*** - Did they ever address the ghost "boy" in any installments? I always though Toby was a man - as seen in part 3 who killed the boyfriend and in part 4 who killed the mom. There is clearly a ghost "boy" who looked like he was trying to go into Hunter while he was talking to Toby. - So the adopted boy was actually Hunter, so how did Katie lose Hunter? Also, it was way too fucking convenient that the family that adopted Hunter moved into a house across the street from the cult house. - The young girl and her boyfriend set the cameras up and seem to check them everyday. Suddenly, when the girl gets picked up off her bed, she can't access the video feed. The girl has the car start on its own and her parents come home after. You'd think she'd want her boyfriend to come over and bring up the feed to show the parents. Not hit up Applebees with the dad. - So on the car, the car started on its own. The girl gets in and is able to put the car in gear. Does Cadillac have an ignition system that you don't have a physical key fob to start the car? And why would the dad keep the keyfob in the car at all times? - Gotta love how the silver Prius almost hits the girl during the day and then its the same, lone car shown driving off at the very end when the girl is yelling for help.

  • Characters talking in the foreground while some bit of business is playing out in the background. Not even close to what they're doing in the PA films. Not even with other "found footage" films that play out like documentaries. Capone and I are referring to the static scenes that are held for a period of time...until..until..until..something happens. It may be a flutter, or something more intense. It is nothing like the audience noticing a comical scene acting out in the background, or reacting to a visual gag. Of course the audience reacts to what is playing out on the screen, thats the entire nature of cinema. And what the filmmakers are doing isnt rocket science. It's actually a pretty cheap trick, akin to jumping out and saying "boo" when you least expect it, but done well. Again, I don't think these are particularly good films, or ones that have any lasting value, but I think they've come upon a technique that involves the audience (esp. the younger, media drenched audience, whose lives seem to revolve around looking at screens of various sizes and portability) more intensely than other films.

  • Oct. 20, 2012, 4:40 p.m. CST

    it's insane that you're even covering this.

    by IWasInJuniorHighDickhead

    AICN stopped with any Uwe Boll coverage because it was just giving him oxygen. Any film site worth their salt would ignore this shit. This isn't what AICN was about. It wasn't some aggregate film site that would cover any and every film release, it had some taste. There've always been issues with Harry, but something like this would have only been reported on had someone gotten hold of inside knowledge of the film that let people know if it was particularly good or bad. Just reviewing it cause it's out cheapens the site.

  • Oct. 20, 2012, 9:50 p.m. CST

    by Shaun D Lyons

    Its all about the fucking money. Thats the real horror, folks.

  • Oct. 21, 2012, 1:03 a.m. CST

    I agree with everything @detective_fingerling said

    by emu47

    Second was my favorite. Movies overall aren't great, but dammit ... they're an October tradition I've actually enjoyed.

  • Oct. 21, 2012, 3:39 p.m. CST



    I think I'll wait for this on TV. The first one wasn't great but it managed to creep my out a bit when I watched it at home during the day. It gets points for that. It was helped out by the fact there was a huge bang in my kitchen when I was watching, and I found a broken piece of wood (part of the kitchen) in the middle of the floor. Don't get me wrong, I know it was caused by built up pressure or something like it, but it creeped the fuck out of me. Parts 2 and 3 weren't nearly as good but they weren't horrible either.

  • Oct. 26, 2012, 7 p.m. CST

    Agreed detective_fingerling!! SPOILER!!!

    by ray

    I had the exact same questions!!! and yet no answers. They just posted an interview with one of the directors, and he said Toby could take child form, and that was him in that scene, but it still doesn't answer why Wyatt/Hunter was facing forward and speaking to something taller than him.