It's Horror Movie Month! "Paranormal Activity 4" Review

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

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It's Horror Movie Month! "Paranormal Activity 4" Review

Rating: R (language and some violence/terror)
Length: 88 minutes
Release Date: October 19, 2012
Directed by: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Genre: Horror

In "Paranormal Activity 4," teenager Alex (Kathryn Newton) is living the nice suburban Las Vegas life with her brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp) and parents Doug (Stephen Dunham) and Holly (Alexondra Lee). She has a cute and understanding boyfriend named Ben (Matt Shively), who she talks to over Skype when he can't be there in person. All seems well in her world until  the single mother living across the street, Katie (Katie Featherston), falls ill and has to be admitted to hospital. Since she has no family anywhere near, Alex and her family do the neighborly thing and offer to let her young son Robbie (Brady Allen) stay with them until she recovers. Robbie is around Wyatt's age, so the two should get along like gangbusters, right?

As it turns out, they don't get along all that well, mostly because Robbie doesn't seem very sociable. The family tries to make him feel comfortable and cared for, but he always seems off in space, as if he is in his own little world. Shortly after his arrival, mysterious things start happening around the house, much like in the first three films in the franchise. Alex begins to use her phone and video recorder to capture some of these freaky occurrences on film, to prove to her parents she isn't just imagining things.

Unfortunately for the family, Alex definitely isn't letting her imagination take flight. Items start to move all by themselves, even when the room is empty. Things go missing, and people start to get really frightened as they begin to endure things they can't possibly understand. Is Robbie doing these things, or is it something much more sinister? Some of these questions are answered by the end of the film; others are saved for the inevitable fifth film in this growing horror series.

It helps to have seen the previous three installments before viewing "Paranormal Activity 4," but it isn't completely necessary—a plus point for the movie. The only real link is that the Robbie is the Katie's child, the woman being possessed in the original "Paranormal Activity." Even without this knowledge, the fact that a creepy young boy who doesn't talk or do much is coming to stay with a much more social family is already an interesting tale that can stand on its own two feet. Viewers don't have to know the boy's connection to the first flick to be scared by the usual jumps and frights the film provides, even if some of those frights are a tad predictable and expected.

"Paranormal Activity 4" is a part of a growing movement in the movie industry that is often referred to as "found footage." This phenomenon started with "The Blair Witch Project"—revolutionary for its time as it purported to have found footage of a group of friends who went in search of local legends and disappeared, never to be seen again. The graininess and amateur-looking camerawork added to the suspense and scariness of the film, which helped make it a huge hit. Some horror film fans have groused that the found film trope is being overused in films. After viewing "Paranormal Activity 4," some viewers may agree that found footage has indeed become a little long in the tooth, but it is thankfully still effective. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman are smart enough to use it in a way that still brings the frights, especially when viewed in a group. Whether that group is in a movie theater or at home, it is still a fun and occasionally jumpy watch. All it takes is one person to scream to set off a chain effect of sorts, which is likely what Joost and Schulman were going for.

One thing that has remained a constant throughout all four films, other than the use of found footage, is the lack of a soundtrack. In all the "Friday the 13th" films, viewers were alerted that the slasher, Jason Vorhees, was near because of the iconic music played. "Paranormal Activity 4" has no such score, instead using the slight buzz of the filming camcorders to act as the soundtrack. It's a great way to save money for the filmmakers, and it's also a highly effective way of upping the creep factor. This creepiness and the lack of audience prompting serve the film well and are what make the movie more frightening than it would have been with music.

Rating: 2 out of 5