As inevitable as Halloween itself is the next installment in a horror franchise that is cheap to make and keeps making good money. Previously the home of Final Destination or Saw, the found footage juggernaut of Paranormal Activity rolls through its fourth entry. Made for a budget of around $5m it found itself in profit after its opening night. Within the chronology of the series, Paranormal Activity 4 finds itself happening a few years after the end of events in the second film, but it references some of the subject matter raised in Paranormal Activity 3.
Alex (Kathryn Newton) is a teenage girl living in Nevada with her family. Communicating via webcam and picture phone with her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively) she notices a strange boy called Robbie (Brady Allen) who moves in across the street with his mum. After noticing a disturbance with ambulances Alex’s mother Holly (Alexondra Lee) agrees to look after Robbie in her absence. His arrival and his unusual relationship with her brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp) lead Alex to suspect that something is not right, so she sets up cameras all over the house to investigate.
Bringing the franchise back to the modern day, Paranormal Activity 4 explains what happened to Katie (Katie Featherstone) and her nephew Hunter after the shocking events of the second film. Further building the mythology of the series it teases some big revelations, but holds back from going the whole way ending on an almost cliff-hanger ending, which will likely setup the next and hopefully final film.
There are some attempts to inject neat little ideas to keep the found footage element alive such as one of the best pieces of product placement in recent memory. The family living room has an XBOX Kinnect, which it is explained projects small light dots as a way of tracking movement, so when seen through night-vision creates an other-worldy light show. Not only does this make the audience want to buy a Kinnect to test that it actually works, but it also gives Paranormal Activity 4 the chance to play with the idea of ghosts and movement beyond the normal and these scenes are when it’s at its strongest.
The cast are also surprisingly adept at making you care about them, while the performance of Brady Allen as the chillingly odd Robbie is the true stand-out. Like a modern-day Damien, his almost adult reactions to the behaviour of the teenagers is as impressive as it is disturbing. Katie Featherstone also continues to build her own character up to horror film icon levels and the fact that she has barely appeared in any other film really adds believability to the sometimes less-than-believable idea of the franchise.
Despite these positives, it is still a bit of a retread of previous films and as the franchise runs out of steam there is just enough juice left in the tank to tie the whole story together in the announced Paranormal Activity 5. For Paranormal Activity 4 though, it remains better than the second film, but fails to reach the heights of the first and third. It is still a decent fun-fair experience that is one of the better horror films in a year that has failed to impress for the genre as a whole, but the clock is ticking on how much longer Oren Peli and company can string it out.