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New Release Review - Paranormal Activity 4

Directed by: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Starring: Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Brady Allen

Fourth installment in the found footage series.

Like that unwelcome extra digit on the electricity bill and the blackening of night before the six o'clock news, a new "Paranormal Activity" movie is a sure sign that we are well and truly into autumn. The first movie was a phenomenon which, due to it's enormous profit, sent the found footage genre into overdrive and spawned dozens of, mostly awful, imitations. It's own sequels have been getting progressively worse and I doubt you'll be shocked to hear that this year's edition is the worst thus far. While the first two follow-ups at least attempted to give us something new and create a mythology, part four is bereft of ideas and rehashes moments from both it's precursors and classics of the horror genre.
The story takes place five years after the events of the first two films and the setting is now suburban Nevada. We meet a family with two kids; a fifteen year old girl (Newton) and a six year old boy called Wyatt. Across the street lives a creepy young boy (Allen), who they take in after his single parent mother is hospitalized for reasons never made explicit. As soon as Allen moves in, a series of increasingly strange occurrences begin. Newton documents the proceedings using her cellphone, a camcorder and the webcams of strategically placed laptops. (This house has more laptops than a Hollywood writers convention and they seem to be left on continuously.)
It feels like an age before anything other than normal inactivity starts to occur and when it does it's simply a series of plagiaristic riffs on better horror movies. We get the bouncing ball from "The Changeling", the toys brought to sudden life from "Poltergeist" and even "The Shining"'s tricycle. Plot elements are introduced only to be used ineffectively. The motion sensor of an X-Box is employed as a way of capturing the outlines of ghostly apparitions, a clever idea which is never used to it's best advantage. The doors of the house trigger a voice message when opened, a device which leads you to believe this will be utilized in a set-piece but again this idea is wasted.
As was the case with the third film, footage shown in the trailer is absent from the film, though not quite to such a maddening degree. The promotional materials have also been misleading, for example the still at the top of this page, taken from the official poster, isn't actually from the movie. If you visit the film's IMDB page, you'll see actors and characters listed who never appear in the final cut. Presumably the DVD will feature an extended cut, a practice I find offensive to those who shell out cash for a cinema ticket.
"Paranormal Activity 4" has the feel of a movie that's gone through several cuts but the one we're finally presented with is far from satisfactory.
3/10
Paranormal Activity 4 (2012) on IMDb 4.6/10

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