Talk to any jaded film fan who hasn’t seen the Paranormal Activity movies and they’ll probably dismiss them as cheaply made cash cows -- and while they may have a point, the series has managed to beef up its box-office numbers while expanding its mythology with each new installment. The third outing (or technically the fourth if you count the canonical, Japan-set Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night) brought witches into the mix, which turned the first two movies on their heads -- in a good way. And while Paranormal Activity 4 is a lesser film than its predecessors, it still delivers the shocking goods and ends with a frightening finale that promises much more to come.
This time, the cell phones and computer cameras are focused on a teenage girl (Kathryn Newton) whose family allow a young boy in their neighborhood named Robbie (Brady Allen) to stay with them while his mom is sick. Soon after, eerie things start happening in the household, some of which focus on the girl’s younger brother Wyatt. As the bumps in the night become more pronounced, the mysteries surrounding Robbie’s family and the house across the street grow to the point where the only thing for the teen girl to do is investigate herself.
The casting of the Paranormal franchise has always been quite good, and this one is no different. Newton is a strong lead, and the video chats that make up most of the film are far from irritating thanks to the chemistry between her and her boyfriend (Matt Shively), who provides much of the picture’s comic relief. One argument leveled against the series is that it recycles scares, although that isn’t quite the case with this one. Not only do the filmmakers figure out a neat way to play with visuals (thanks to the Xbox 360’s “Connect” feature, which fills rooms with tracking dots), but they have fun with an audience who are prepared for the same old tricks.
Pacing issues prevent the film from firing on all cylinders. And once Shively disappears around the midway point, the movie loses its laughs -- which could have helped break up the monotony later on. Also, Allen’s wooden performance is the one exception to the otherwise excellent casting. Still, Paranormal Activity 4 should please the majority of its audience, even if critically the film could be seen as much more lacking than what came before. And make sure to stay after the credits for a scene from a Latin spin-off of the series.
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