‘Paranormal Activity 4′ Review

Published 3 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. Meh. Reading this review, I’ll probably give this a pass – might be good for a group movie night next time but won’t rush out to see this.

    Looks like they’ve tried to stretch it too far – I didn’t find the first PA particularly scary, but it was a great watch with some buddies because of the extremely simple setup – alternate between night and day, hang on the edge of your seat waiting for something to happen.

  2. Is this franchise going the way of the SAW movies, you know same old.

    • Ironically it was the sequelitis problems of the Saw franchise that meant this movie did far better at the box office.

    • I fea that it is :(

  3. PA film in Imax, that’s going too far, maybe PA5 will be released in 3D

  4. I had a feeling this one would be lame. Milking the series and giving no answers to huge questions = me not paying up for tickets

    • You are wise. Do not see. Its not terrible, but not worthy of the the 1st 2. It was was a movie that didn’t really need to be made

  5. ‘Activity’ is a bit of a stretch for the title, it should have been called ‘one or two mildly paranormal things way less paranormal than last time’…. Then I would have known what I was getting. All the stakes were lessened and this was a fail on every level. I liked the first 3. Half a star and the years biggest waste of time. Go see sinister instead. Still not brilliant but looks like the exorcist in comparison to this shameless con

    • Mark: I am totally tweeting that out. Definitely a good summation.

      • @Benkendrick. Thanks! And thanks for the many hours of free entertainment and making my london tube journey bareable. Give us the green lantern podcast as a Christmas present please!

  6. Short: Sexy actor, boring film

  7. i really am bored to death with all the found footage stuff. i think it officially wore out it’s welcome with the horrible tv show the river.

    • I cant disagree with you more. I believe there is so much in foundfootage that has yet to be tapped into. However if there going to tap into it the formula cant be the same. The following took place at a certain date. The camera man was the second to last person to die followed by the main lead. No one in this video you about to see was heard from again.

  8. They played it too safe. I still liked it but if they expect me to spend money for a 5th they better promise to give us answers to the many questions 3 and 4 has.

    • Yes EXACTLY! Its time for them to cash their chips in and end this ride with a bang!

  9. I was bored out of my skull. Only thing that kept me in the theater was the hope of a payoff (finally) – and it was not worth it. At all.

    And I say that as a fan of the franchise.


    • Better luck next time. They’ve got to work hard to win my interest back though

  10. Maybe I’m a cynic but the product placement in the film bummed me out almost as much as the premise. (Keep an eye out for the character who opens the fridge, gets a Pepsi, holds it to camera, walks around drinking it and then that’s it).

  11. This movie was so bad, it made me wonder if I could try a found footage movie myself to try and better it. I’m surprised the idea that came to me hasn’t been used before in this genre. Not gonna say what just yet cause I might abandon the whole idea but still.

  12. Not going to see PA 5 but I find it interesting that Ben writes exactly like he talks – I can totally hear his voice while reading the review. Love the podcast! You guys make terrible movies entertaining to hear about and good movies better! Thanks!


    • Ha. I’ll take that as a compliment 😉 Glad you’re enjoying the show!

  13. Great review. It just amazes me. I’m stunned at how they keep pulling it off. If you look at the cast and crew list on IMDB, it’s barely a page of credits. They pump these things out and they keep printing money.

    • Jenny M,

      If you want to link to your site using the Website field in the comment form, that’s fine – but please don’t leave links to your review in our review. Bad form.


  14. Simple and short…Don’t waste your MONEY!!!

  15. One question? What is up with Robbie’s special fork? The gold fork that he carries with him, and it’s SOO important, And the stuffed rabbit? That’s a 100 years old? They didn’t explain anything in this movie?

    • I agree, with you there about the special fork and the toys, but what really makes me wonder it who the hell or what the hell is Robbie and how he fits into the story.

  16. Funny how many people want to rag on the Saw franchise,yet they probably have more of a narrative thread than this franchise.

  17. Aaaaand Paranormal Activity has officially been “SAW’d”. This was Paramount’s “Whatever, they’re gonna see it anyway” money making sequel. I knew as soon I heard it was 5yrs after the ending of PA2 that it was going to be bad. But being a fan of the franchise I gave it a chance. In my opinion there was only 1 way PA4 could’ve worked, and that’s another parallel prequel involving the 1988 & 1992 tapes. Mainly the 1992 tapes. To me the end of PA2 should’ve always been the end of the franchise because we can all see that the demon got its part of the deal by getting Hunter. SIMPLE! Anything after that is just stretching the storyline, adding confusion, and lazily leaving the fans to fill in too many huge plot holes: And that’s exactly what PA4 did.

  18. I have some questions after seeing the movie:

    1. How did Hunter get away from Katie after PA2 & end up being adopted by his family in PA4?

    2. Who was Robbie & where did he come from?

    3. Were his parents in the cult?

    4. Was it planned for Hunter to escape from Katie until he was “ready”?

    5. Is the grandmother still alive? I guess not or I would’ve expected her to appear in PA4

    I smell a 5th. Katie running in the hallway after Alex at the end was creepy as hell

    • 1. Hunter never got away from Katie; the neighbor in PA4 that got hurt is Katie.
      2. Robbie is Hunter from PA2, they just changed his name.
      3 and 4. I’m guessing #2 answers these ones too.
      5. Not sure if the grandmother is still alive, and yeah, there’s definetly going to be a fifth one.

      • Robbie isn’t Hunter, Wyatt is Hunter. Alex’s (the main character’s) little brother. He was adopted by her family, so Saverio was wondering how and why that happened, which I don’t know either. They never really explained who Robbie was or where Katie got him..

        I take it you didn’t see the movie? Or just wasn’t really paying attention? Lol.

    • Getting awfully close to spoilers with those questions…

  19. This review is dead on. The only thing I liked about PA4 was Kathryn Newton. Not a bad movie, but not really all that good. It is time to retire this franchise.

  20. I’ve enjoyed the movies, they’re fun to watch with friends in theaters during Halloween, even if the films are flawed, but based on how bad reviews and audience word of mouth is, we’re worrying about seeing this one.

    Also, each film looks like nothing more than a set up for the next film, does this film continue that trend?

  21. Movie was bad expected a whole lot more . The trailer is better than the movie.

  22. Where do these people get these cameras with the extraordinary battery life…I mean…DAMN!

  23. So I went to watch this at the movies the other night, I didn’t even know they where going for a 4th movie but when I found out they did I just had to see it. Not so much for it being a “great franchise” but because I enjoyed the demon and coven part especialy – in the 3rd movie I almost shat my pants when he opens the door where the grandmother and the rest of the witches are gathered, and I almost didnt react to the other spooky stuff but that scene was completely unexpected. So what does that have to to with PA4? Well as the review says this movie just creates more questions, I would rather have seen some kind of scéance part and more about the witches and the demon perhaps leading up to some creepy conclusion and not so much a reboot which this felt like, I mean you look at the other movies they go investigating with cameras and stuff so seeing a bunch of new believers doing that again was like “So this is PA(1) all over again, but with a lot less scary stuff going on.”. The actress playing Katie is spot on though, she scares the bejebies out of me – but she had so little to do in this movie it’s really sad. If they make a 5th they better go all out and make me want to sleep with all the lights on for a week. 1/5 from me.


  25. PA4: a horror movie without horror is a thriller. In this case, a drama.

    • Or a reboot of Clarissa explains it all…. Think about it!

  26. Hey this was the best movie I have ever seen.