‘Paranormal Activity 4′ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 18th, 2014 at 4:09 am,

Paranormal Activity 4 Toby Paranormal Activity 4 Review

Whether you attend the Paranormal Activity movies for the scares or the story, part 4 is a step down for both audiences.

Back in 2009, Screen Rant’s Kofi Outlaw caught a preview showing of the indie-produced found-footage film Paranormal Activity – during director Oren Peli’s campaign to have viewers “demand” film screenings in their area. Positive word of mouth eventually carried the film into a wide release and on to $193 million dollars (from a $15,000 budget). Since that time, the Paranormal Activity sequels have become standard Halloween season programming at the box office and with low-cost productions and massive ticket revenue, the films now rank as some of the most profitable movies ever made.

Now the producers are back with Paranormal Activity 4, re-teaming with their Paranormal Activity 3 directors, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Catfish). Despite some memorable scares, Paranormal Activity 3 was criticized for the way it handled the larger (albeit thin) franchise “story.” Can Joost and Schulman find a better balance this round – a film that delivers both creative scares and advances the Paranormal Activity mythos?

There’s no doubt that the filmmakers faced a tough challenge, given the series’ thin premise but nearly every element of the franchise has been watered down in part 4. The movie delivers a number of tense  moments but only a few of them pay off with memorable scares. Additionally, the story, which takes place years after the events of Paranormal Activity 1 and 2, further muddles the larger franchise mythos (creating significantly more questions than answers) and, like plenty of found footage films before it, fails to deliver a fulfilling conclusion. Some viewers will defend the film for being satisfyingly spooky but, compared to the prior entries, Paranormal Activity 4 is by far the least compelling.

Paranormal Activity 4 Kathryn Newton Paranormal Activity 4 Review

Kathryn Newton as Alex in ‘Paranormal Activity 4′

Ever since the original Paranormal Activity, the overarching series storyline has primarily been exploring events that led-up to the first film, jumping around in time, but number 4 finally moves the larger plot forward. Five years after Katie ruthlessly killed her boyfriend, sister, and brother-in-law as well as kidnapped her nephew, the demon-possessed woman has stopped running from the law and settled in suburban, Henderson, NV. However, despite headlining the cast, Katie is little more than a supporting character and the story once again centers on a clueless victim, Alex (Kathryn Newton), who attempts to make sense of spooky incidents in her home. Alex is a typical teenage girl, Skyping with her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively) and playing table tennis on Xbox 360 Kinect – ignorant to the fact her new neighbors are a demon-possessed murderer and a troubled child. As the unexplained and dangerous happenings escalate, Alex comes face to face with the horrors of Paranormal Activity.

As a production concept, Paranormal Activity 4 has a lot of smart components: Alex is a welcome change of pace from the camera-obsessed young adult husbands/boyfriends in prior entries and the dynamic between the character and her “boyfriend” offer a good mix of lighthearted scenes to offset all the creepy ones. In addition, an explanation for all the cameras is smart enough; though, for viewers who have trouble suspending disbelief, the film still presents plenty of “why would you film that?” moments.

Each camera, like in parts 1-3, is built with specific production “tricks” in mind (ex. the living room is enhanced by Microsoft Kinect’s infrared laser grid). Unfortunately, none of them are nearly as entertaining as the setups that came before. For the most part, the Kinect sequences (which are essentially this installment’s “fan cam”) are a missed opportunity and, looking at the way the gimmick is used throughout the film, offers little payoff for the amount of time spent squinting through night vision shots. It’s a problem that leaks into the larger film experience – as Paranormal Activty 4 is the most meandering entry in the franchise. The pacing is stunted, especially in the final act, and the ratio of time spent in tense setups versus onscreen paranormal hijinks has noticeably lessened – resulting in scenes that are less rewarding and ultimately deliver fewer memorable payoffs.

Paranormal Activity 4 Alex Robbie Paranormal Activity 4 Review

Alex and Robbie (Brady Allen) in ‘Paranormal Activity 4′

Mythology buffs who have been hoping for a competent extension of the Paranormal Activity series story will be equally underwhelmed. As mentioned, the film finally advances the larger narrative five years into the future but, surprisingly, creates more franchise plot holes than it addresses as well as significantly convolutes the “Toby” demon lore all while riffing on Paranormal Activity 3 plot points – without adding anything fresh to the mix. Avoiding specific spoilers, it’s fair to say that Paranormal Activity 4 entirely side-steps primary questions that audiences have been asking for years, following the events of Paranormal Activity 1, 2, and 3, in service of predictable twists and a bungled  “bigger is scarier” approach in the last act.

In addition to normal screenings, Paranormal Activity 4 is playing in IMAX certified theaters but there’s absolutely no benefit in paying the premium charge. The confined in-house found footage format isn’t improved by a larger screen or louder sound and it’s hard to find any reason for Paramount’s choice to release in IMAX - aside from inflating ticket prices for a high profile film.

Whether you attend the Paranormal Activity movies for the scares or the story, part 4 is a step down for both audiences. The plot raises plenty of questions that fans will debate in the coming weeks but only because the film is extremely vague on what audiences are actually seeing minute to minute – not because Joost and Schulman create fresh directions or interesting mysteries in this installment (they don’t). That said, creative setups have long-been the franchise linchpin; unfortunately, the spooky setups aren’t particularly original this round either, rehashing familiar found footage ideas with minor twists that rarely deliver big scares. There’s little doubt we’ll see a Paranormal Activity 5 but, given the measly $14.15 million that has been spent to produce four entries in the $576 million (and counting) global franchise, it’s time for Paramount to reinvest some of that money in filmmakers who can deliver a better return on audience investment – i.e. a more satisfying set of scary movie experiences.

Note: If you do go, stay after the credits and then read this article.

If you’re still on the fence about Paranormal Activity 4, check out the trailer below as well as our Paranormal Activity Story Explained in 3 Minutes video:


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Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below. If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our Paranormal Activity 4 Spoilers Discussion.

For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check out our Paranormal Activity 4 episode of the SR Underground podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Paranormal Activity 4 is Rated R for language and some violence/terror. Now playing in theaters.

Our Rating:

2 out of 5

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  1. best movie eva

  2. This movie made no sense at all. Ok so if hunter wasn’t “ready” yet for whatever the cult wanted to do to him, why did Katie kill his family and obduct him in PA2? Then put him up for adoption for 5 years? Why? Why not just wait another 5 years then possess Katie and obduct Hunter?

    The whole adoption thing is stupid.

    • totally agreed! it was stupid…

  3. If we are comparing this movie to the other movies in the franchise, then it really wasn’t that bad. Yea, we have seen this stuff before and the scares were not as good as the first but the movie still had the same feel for me as the others.

    Problem here is that people are tired of the suspenseful build up with little pay off. Here we had that.

    How they could have surprised audiences is if when the knife flew up in the kitchen, when the wife was dicing, if it then came down on her and cut her, that would have been dramatic. These movies have not incorporated any type of good kill.

    Having a few sick kills would have been a way to change and reinvent the franchise, as opposed to snapping someone’s neck and flinging people up and down rooms.

    Will there be a 5th, undoubtedly. But with the fifth I think that the audience at this point is growing tiresome and would like to have a solid conclusion with a clearer explanation of the events.

  4. To compare this movie with the other 3 Paranormal Activity movies, I was quite good at some bits and poor at others, One thing is that the other movies had more scary sceens in it and the only scare screens in number 4 is at the end and the movie all it had was jumps.

    So i give it out of 10 2/10.

  5. Paranormal Activity 3 was absolute garbage. So bad that I actually wanted to walk out. A bunch of witches? Really? After reading here that they are still going with the witch route I have no interest in it. I mean what the Hell is scary about witches? The idiots that did part 3 should have been fired. Should have kept it a ghost story.

  6. Honestly, as a fan of the series, I enjoyed this film immensely. But when it comes to the how ‘scary’ it is, the videos Jacob Degloshi has posted so far are already 10x more terrifying than anything in PA4.

    • I loved Jacob Degloshi’s videos and I’m almost 100% sure that it’s going to be PA5, but the story is going so much away from the original. I think it was filmed in one of the houses from first two films, but that’s almost it. PA4 was good, but not THAT scary. If PA5 will be scary like the first 3 films, it might not be bad.

  7. The movie was not worth a penny to watch it. Spend the money somewhere else. Stupid movie. Stupid ending.

  8. if you like pa4, then check out, http://www.youtube.com/uscreamtv

  9. Can’t wait to watch this movie!!

  10. You know, I don’t mind spending money at all when movies are great (I watched ALL the paranormals at the pictures and bought the DVD’s) BUT I hate it when a movie clearly shows that it’s been made PURELY to take my money by dragging a storyline out (although PA4 has no storyline WHATSOEVER)

    PA4 would have been great IF it actually tied to the other movies and explained everything – what the hell is it? It look inhuman in PA1 with the paw type “demon”…so did the grandmother sell her soul like she said in PA2, what does it look like, where did it come from etc.

    Lots of the usual flying around the room, does NOT tie in with the other films and without Katie it could just be a standalone BAD film that makes no sense whatsoever!

    Annoyed me so much none of my family and friends will be wasting any money on PA5 now :-( super bad

  11. Without spoiling the movie I’ll just say that few to no questions are answered, the thin story established in the previous enstallments in stretched thinner to the point of making no sense, the scares are few and far between and most are blatant rip offs from previous movies, the attempt to build tension simply slows everything down, and once again not a single moment from the scary preview is in the film. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to enjoy this. I’m sure it will find it’s audience, it’s not the worst way to spend 90 minutes. But as a big fan of the previous three films, I feel like this was just a lazy attempt to cash in on the series’ popularity. I admit to falling for the gimmick. I wont fall for it again when number 5 comes out.

    • Agree. Won’t be paying much to see 5, because 4 was WEAK. I’ll watch it on-demand or borrow someone’s DVD and then be done with the series, whether it’s the last one or not. Looks like greed can ruin good ideas.

  12. So far PA4 is the worse movie of the series.

    Storyline is not related to the previous movie and not only that, the movie was boring as hell plus not scare at all.

    They had a whole year to come up with something but to me it looked like they made this movie in a couple or hours…

  13. Okay, I understand that people don’t appreciate the fact that this movie just drags out the story line, but it’s not a bad movie at all. It’s just like the other Paranormal Activity movies if you ask me.

    And for those who say it has no story line, how doesn’t it ?
    It’s not much of one, but it ties in with all three of the other movies, and I’m sure all these question that weren’t answered, will be in the fifth movie.

    These movies are good for one thing,
    cuddling up with your girlfriend/boyfriend and getting a good few jumps and scares. I for one, am more than okay with that.

    If you liked the Paranormal Activity movies, then you will want to see it just because, but as for the rating everyone has a different opinion.
    I would give it a 3/5 star rating.

  14. I just can’t stand how everyone dies in the last ten mins they could of did a lot better and spread it out to make it a little more interesting super dragged out

  15. I’ve read quite a few reviews and threads on this movie since watching it recently and I find it strange that nobody points out the fact that they were using a Kinect in 2006. It wasn’t available until 2010! I know it’s just a movie but really? It’s hard enough taking these films serious as it is. If they’re going to shove these product placements into our eyeballs they might as well get the timelines right. Why not throw an IPad into the mix or have the girl barely avoid being run over by a 2014 Prius. The dopey BF/Friend could drop by on his flying skateboard. My wife made me watch the previous entries at the theaters. I refused to pay to see this one. Yes I watched it illegally!!!! I deserve to. I paid and sat through 4.5 hours of this crap already. If I saw this one in the theater I would have left 15 minutes in and walked to the nearby chilis and gotten drunk at the bar.

    • The “events” from PA4 It is supposed that happen in 2011

  16. Obviously pa4 is a waste of money if u went to see it at the theater…if you rented it from redbox…or watched it elsewhere…the first 30-40 minutes boring…then more boring…i fast forward 10 min finally…2 secs of uhhh…
    boring again…last 20 secs was actually hmm…then…huh thats it…?
    Pssshhh…watever…i rather watch painted skin…now watch part 2…
    tell me its better than all the PA’s combined!

  17. Ok,so everyone’s making out that this film has ‘no story line’ and its ‘not scary at all’. It may not be as thrilling and exciting as the other three films, however isn’t a bad film at all. Worth the watch, will definetly watch number 5.
    Rate; 3/5 stars

  18. Please stop making Paranormal Activity movies. End the franchise, it has no redeeming value. Enough is enough