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'Paranormal Activity 4': Is the movie worth seeing this Halloween?

'Paranormal Activity 4' is the newest installment in the found-footage franchise. Is it a satisfyingly scary story for Halloween?

By Ben KendrickScreen Rant / October 24, 2012

'Paranormal Activity 4' focuses on Alex, a teenager living near Katie, the star of the first movie who is now possessed by a demon.

Paramount Pictures/AP


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.

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Screen Rant had a humble start back in 2003 as a place to rant about some of the dumber stuff related to the movie industry. Since then, the site has grown to cover more and more TV and movie news (and not just the dumb stuff) along with sometimes controversial movie reviews. The goal at Screen Rant is to cover stories and review movies from a middle ground/average person perspective.

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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.

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.

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