31

Paranormal Activity 4: Work Print (2012)

Cover art:

reviews/pa4wps.jpg

Paranormal Activity 4: Work Print (2012)Starring Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Brady Allen

Directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost


Disclaimer: This review is based solely upon on a work-in-progress print of the film shown at Fantastic Fest. As a result a number of things could change in time for its October 19th theatrical release.


Paranormal Activity 3 was a triumph after the severely disjointed second installment with newcomers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman deviating from a standard setup with sight gags in favor of moving cameras, ghostly figures, and plenty of instances of creepy kids talking to someone (or something) off camera. Add in a clever backstory involving a mysterious cult, and you have a huge leap forward for a series that was never intended to go past one film. After taking the events back to the Eighties and focusing on the childhood of Katie and her sister, Kristi, in what direction can Joost and Schulman take the franchise?

Taking place five years after the events surrounding Katie (as an adult) and Micah, Paranormal Activity 4 sees the series uprooted and moved to Henderson, Nevada. A new family comprised of a two parents, their teenage daughter, Alex, and her younger brother, Wyatt, take in their young and seemingly weird next-door neighbor Robbie after his mother has an accident. Robbie is an odd kid with a tendency to appear at their house at random times and say sinister-sounding things. Slowly but surely the “activity” begins, and Robbie appears to be at the center of it.

Like its immediate predecessor, Paranormal Activity 4 seeks to distinguish itself from the first two films by employing a variety of different methods of showing the titular activity in ways that break the traditional found footage mold. Strategically placed webcams, Skype chats, and even Xbox Kinect infrared projection laser dots all factor into a number of incredibly clever, albeit erratically spaced, scares that utilize multiple perspectives to convey the activity. By this point in the series, however, found footage has become little more than a unique way of presenting the action unfold. It’s no longer “found” footage; it’s simply a narrative device. This allows Joost and Schulman to forget about logic and have fun with the scares, something that can, ostensibly, please both the die-hard fans and newcomers to the series.

Unfortunately, in the version screened at Fantastic Fest, they don’t. This cut of Paranormal Activity 4 is exceptionally slow with very little happening beyond Robbie frightening the family as he makes cryptic threats and sneaks around the house late at night. This part of the film is relegated to the contrived shadows, moving doors, and ominous footsteps that move about the house; it works in some instances, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before from this series. Joost and Schulman do deserve credit for their use of a Kinect and its laser technology as a scare, but after the first few times it just becomes played out as another static camera filled with green dots. Nothing is fully realized with numerous opportunities for good scares being wasted.

Instead, the film focuses on the “creepy kid” motif and does so with great success. Robbie clearly has a sinister agenda, hinting at horrifying things to come in an almost deadpan manner that’s exceedingly creepy. It’s here we see the significant differences between Paranormal Activity 3 and 4 as Joost and Schulman opt for less frequent scares in favor of building a slowly creeping sense of dread throughout. By this point in the franchise, and with their second attempt at continuing the series, Joost and Schulman have managed to make it so nearly every scene will have you sitting on the edge of your seat, scanning the screen as you wait for the inevitable paranormal activity.

The story is thin and unpolished and opts not to delve deeper into the cult and its need for Hunter that was developed in Paranormal Activity 3. More questions are raised than answered, and while they can be dismissed as unimportant, those with an invested interest in the series will find themselves wondering, “Why?” By the fourth film the audience clearly wants more development in terms of Toby and what happened to Katie since Hunter’s abduction, and while it’s hinted at, it’s all so incredibly thin and vague that it’s unsatisfying.

It’s frustrating to think that Joost and Schulman are the same filmmakers responsible for developing a genuinely interesting story out of a concept that doesn’t leave much room for creativity. It’s admirable that they sought to take it in a slightly different direction, and while it worked for some of the film, there was simply too much that didn’t work. As it stands, this cut signifies that it may be time to shut the series down with a fifth and final film to wrap up all the loose ends and questions created by a weak and plot-hole-ridden fourth installment.

2 out of 5

Discuss Paranormal Activity 4 in our comments section below!

Brad McHargue

  • kiddcapone

    “but i still have faith in Oren Peli to make the right choices, do the right cuts and the right re shoots”

    Really? I guess you’ve never seen The River…

    This is as negative a review for anything PA related you’ll ever see on here. When the movie is released Dread Central will go into full Fox News Mitt Romney delusional spin mode turning a blind eye and singing it’s high praises…You can set your watch by it…A guaranteed 4 out of 5 knife minimum before the title card even pops up…

    • Brad McHargue

      You act as if there is one voice on Dread Central. There are plenty. My negative review might be offset by a positive review from another reviewer, and that’s only if they decide to post another. Unlike other sites, DC has integrity.

      • kiddcapone

        I’m quite familiar with this site and the personalities, I’ve been here since the beginning and listen to every DFF, and I absolutely guarantee, without a shadow of a doubt, there WILL be a positive review of PA4 posted here on DC in the next few weeks. Take it to the bank.

        I’m not saying DC lacks integrity, but the Paranormal Inactivity movies fall into a special category around these parts. I think Peli handed out stock shares after the slob knob love fest for the 1st film.

        After all, if Chernobyl Diaries gets a 3.5 / 5, PA4 is a lock for 4/5 or better simply by existing.

        • nazo

          From what I’ve seen, it’s not that DC lacks integrity, it’s that their reviewers tend to gravitate toward/bother reviewing the types of movies they are predisposed to like.

          • kiddcapone

            I supposed it’s too be expected but I honestly don’t fault anyone. How many reviews in the short history of DC have come with a fucking disclamer making up excuses for why it’s negative? The fact is, if you shit on too many things or burn too many bridges, you don’t get a sweet quote on the DVD cover, you miss out on exclusive interviews or dvd commentary gigs, free swag, you might not get editing job opportunites or offers for a quick cameo in a flick…You don’t make friends in the industry by hurting feelings and stepping on too many necks…so, it is what it is…

            I mean, seriously, tell me another film franchise that reused the same exact gimmick/formula four consecutive times and every single film got a near flawless review? Wrong Turn? Final Destination? Saw? There’s almost always a dud or two in the mix. But with the Paranormal Inactivity flicks, you can film a pool cleaner for 30 minutes and still come up aces…

          • nazo

            I do prefer reading coverage and reviews from people without inside access for that reason. (A sentiment not just related to horror, I feel the same way about areas like politics. Often times foreign coverage of a country will be more critical and honest because they have less of an incentive to sell something.) Don’t get me wrong, I love this site, but it’s in spite of the “my friend the director” shit.

          • Uncle Creepy

            Ummm newsflash, guys…. If we only covered projects of people whom we didn’t know personally and have friendships with you would have hardly anything to read. If anything because they are friends we owe it to them to be honest. It’s never personal.

          • nazo

            I want to make it clear I don’t think you’re dishonest. My point was that the people most likely to be favourably disposed to something are the people who will be most likely to cover that something. That principle extends to “insider access” and even relationships.

          • Brad McHargue

            Are you implying this review is negative because it’s a workprint? I LOVE the first film, so much so that I consider it one of the best of the past decade. I’m ambivalent on the second, leaning more toward dislike, and I think the 3rd is incredibly creative and genuinely freaky. The fourth just falls flat.

    • Sirand

      Considering this is the most negative review that has been published from the Fantastic Fest screening, your argument is already invalid.

      • kiddcapone

        My “argument” will become invalid when and if I ever read a review for the completed PA4 on Dread Central by one of the major players, not someone who has been here less than a year, that is less than flattering to the franchise.

        • Uncle Creepy

          Kidd, you know I love you, I really do, however, just because you don’t like these movies (yet you see every damned one any way) doesn’t mean that they’re not good. They’re just not for you.

          • kiddcapone

            And I’ll be seeing PA4 the day it’s released, it’s what horror fans do…lol.

            You know I’m just fucking with you guys, right?!?! I’m a ballbuster, it’s what I do…

            One day we’re all gonna meet up and fucking laugh our asses off while getting shit faced…it will happen…probably…maybe…if you ever come back to the east coast, since you left us and sold out for Cali-fucking-fornia…lol.

        • nazo

          Actually, your argument would still be valid, that would merely disprove one of the premises.

          /logic nazi

  • Sirand

    If this one makes very little in the way of story progression, as the workprint suggests, I’d be really bummed. What has made this work as a franchise is the mythology and the last one really opened up a can of worms. If it’s just more spooky activity repeated with a vague sequel set-up at the end, I think they’d be doing this series a disservice.

    The idea that “all the activity has led to this” means that they need to pull out all the stops. That said, the Paranormal guys like to keep things close to their chest and enjoy changing things all the way up to release, so who knows what we’ll see in the cinema?

  • Fearless_Froude

    Well if anything this series will go down into Horror history as a landmark in the 2000 decade. Ill still go see it though make my own call, but you know your out of ideas when you use an Xbox Kinect as scare tactic.

  • Terminal

    What’s the point of reviewing a work print if things may indeed change in the final cut? Seems misleading and a waste of time to me. I’ll check back when the REAL movie is reviewed.

    • Brad McHargue

      They did this last year. The movie comes out in what, two weeks? It’s basically a final product with unfinished visual FX and sound. It looked complete to me. Trust me, the work print will be pretty damned close to the theatrical release.

      • Terminal

        In either case, it’s a pretty irrelevant review to me, and doesn’t even factor in my thoughts on how this movie will play out. It’s akin to reviewing the trailer. I’ll wait for a review of the final film, if it’s all the same.

  • Foywonder

    “is exceptionally slow with very little happening”

    And this is different from previous Paranormal Activity movies how exactly?

    • Brad McHargue

      Stuff actually happens in the other three (well, not the second). This one is closer to the second – huge gaps of weak scares (shadows, noises, etc), with a few good things scattered in between. The only saving grace was the kid who played Robbie, instilling in the film a lingering sense of dread over sight gags. Felt like a very different film from the others.

    • Terminal

      I still would love to know what people mean when they say “nothing happens” in these movies when they’ve had a clear and fluid mythos and more plot progression than all the Saw movies combined. The movies actually go somewhere, where as most horror movie series simply sputter around making zero progress.

      • nazo

        More coherent than Saw? You beat that straw man!

  • Uncle Creepy

    Keep in mind though… the reviewer is not saying the movie is awful, he’s just saying that this particular cut didn’t work.

    • Fearless_Froude

      True True, id rather them run a cut that didn’t work for a test then just release it and laugh all in our faces while running to the bank the week after release)

      • Brad McHargue

        A friend of mine talked to Joost after the screening, and he said that save for some audio and visual FX, the cut we saw is more or less the complete one. I wouldn’t be surprised if the theatrical product is more or less the same thing. Re-cutting it would make it an entirely different movie.

  • Fearless_Froude

    It’s kinda heart breaking to see a 2 out of 5 for a paranormal activitym movie but i still have faith in Oren Peli to make the right choices, do the right cuts and the right re shoots to create one hell of a movie.

    • Uncle Creepy

      As do I.

  • LSD Zombie

    An Xbox Kinect is used as a scare tactic? Oh boy, I don’t know if I’m looking forward to seeing this one.

    • The Woman In Black

      The Kinect’s not really a “scare tactic” – just another means of recording what’s going on.

      • LSD Zombie

        Still sounds like a really lame marketing gimmick.