For the fourth year in a row, the “Paranormal Activity” franchise serves up another taste of horror. This time with a child of questionable intent and the return of the perpetually disturbing Katie, the film repeats its successful formula of drawn-out tension, amateur camerawork, and bumps in the night. Working with its usual brand of suspenseful chills, “Paranormal Activity 4” continues the story of Katie, this time bringing audiences to her fall 2011 story, five years after the first film takes place.
Reception of the film can go one of two ways, depending upon audiences’ attitudes. For those who are not put off by a horror film series’ repeated use of the same formula, like myself, then this addition to the “Paranormal Activity” story is a treat.
The film once again employs the tactics of the achingly long look at one scene before moving to another, leaving viewers wondering just when the ghost or ghoul is going to show up. At other times, the film continues its use of quick movement, disorienting viewers and surprising them with the villains seemingly coming from nowhere. With quick camera action during these scariest parts, the film’s camera work reflects well what is occurring in the various scenes – action, terror and confusion.
Additionally, the continued use of the handheld cameras adds the realistic touch that more polished studio films don’t always provide. As with the first three films, this shaky, in-the-moment view leaves audience members wondering what they are missing out on as they sleep at home. Though sometimes disorienting, the realism of this style gives an atmosphere of legitimacy to the story. With this film’s curious protagonist, a teenage girl, the view is slightly different while still very much the same. Mirroring the situation of Katie and Micah in the first film, Alex finds difficulty in getting anyone to listen. Once again it’s the investigative male who sets up the technology to keep tabs on the household horror. And lastly, the setting is the upscale suburban home where nothing awful every happens. However, along with this repetition of form comes the expansion of the story as a whole. The use of the creepy child, also seen in last year’s “Paranormal Activity 3,” is once again an exceptional detail. Channeling aspects of both “The Omen” and “Poltergeist,” “Paranormal Activity 4” adequately makes use of the creepy child. Coming out right before Halloween, the film is likely to leave the audience wondering just how adorable their visiting trick-or-treaters really are underneath their costumes. While the film saved much of its truly suspenseful, heart-stopping scares for the very end, it was, as a whole, a thoroughly successful addition to the series.
Despite seemingly beating viewers over the head with this storyline and style, going into it with an open mind can certainly provide both chills and laughs on an otherwise dull night out. The film’s success, based on the range of screams in the theater around me, proves the old adage that if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.
Sonya Cheney can be contacted at