Is it October already? Yes ladies and gentleman; the Autumn has arrived, and with Halloween on the horizon, surely it is time for another addition to a seemingly un-stoppable horror franchise. The Paranormal Activity franchise has proven to be a rather effective cash-cow since its first surprise hit outing way back when in 2007 (seeing general release in 2009). Since then, the franchise has become somewhat an annual tradition, and one that I am rather a fan of. The found footage genre is one that does interest me (as seen in my Shock Radar article), as I believe that it is a technique that is incredibly effective when done very well. The Paranormal Activity franchise is such a series of films; one that employs the technique to its full potential and ambitiously attempts to develop the technique. The sec0nd part was satisfying if somewhat un-innovative. But then the creative team behind Catfish (Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman)were bought on and hit it of the park with the 1980’s set Paranormal Activity 3. They generated great tension, injected with self-aware humor and interestingly developed the technique along with the mythology of the world of these movies. Joost and Schulman return once again for this fourth installment, at a time where many people are beginning to question the longevity of this franchise. How was PA4 match up? And does it still justify the franchises’ continuation?

The first true direct sequel of the franchise, PA4 picks up after PA2, which resulted in the possessed Katie (Katie Featherstone) murdering her sister’s family and kidnapping her young son Hunter. With their whereabouts still unknown, the film is told from the perspective of young Alex’s (Kathryn Newton) camcorder and laptop webcam(s), who begins to think that there is something weird about the woman and little boy who have just moved in across the street. A set of circumstances sees the little boy, Robbie, staying with Alex and her family, and sure enough strange things begin to occur. Alex, along with her sort-of boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively), take it upon themselves to record what takes place within the house. But, as we well know, that sort of meddling doth not please those demon fellows.

Straight off the bat, I will say that PA4 is not as innovative as part three, in terms of developing the mythology and the technique. That is not to say that it does not deliver something new to the mix, but it perhaps takes the franchise in a direction that many of us may not have thought of. For a start, this is the first time that the perspective is outside of the realm of the family of Katie and Kristie, the pair of sisters who have been the focus of the previous three installments. In some respects, it is quite refreshing to have a new set of characters to guide us through all the demonic madness; Kathryn Newton and Matt Shively make for an entertaining pairing, and have a light humorous chemistry that injects the proceedings with a more youthful and perhaps innocent spirit than previous installments. Despite the refreshing cast of characters, it does not feel like this should be the natural progression for the franchise. Coming out of family circle feels somewhat of a step backwards in terms of story development and in regards to the mythology, as we re-discover plot aspects through these characters that we were already aware of. There is very much the sense that this installment is perhaps just filler for a much bigger and probably-time-it-got-there conclusion.

However, that is not to say that PA4 is disappointing, quite the contrary. I had an absolute blast watching this movie! I would say that it is perhaps the scariest installment since the first one. It effectively incorporates the use of webcams and, rather creatively, the X-Box Kinect. Joost and Schulman truly are craftsman at developing tension through long takes that crazily send your eyes all over the frame. In one particular extended sequence involving a knife, I was breaking out in a sweat due to how unbearable the situation was (you’ll see what I mean). In terms of the other scares of the movie, your general teases and jumps developed for laughs are all present and correct. Once it feels like you’re getting much of the same thing, Joost and Schulman pull the rug from beneath your feet, and escalate to a nerve-shredding conclusion, that racks up the tension to unbearable and intense levels, culminating in an insane final shot that throws up so many possibilities for the future of the franchise. Thankfully, they also retain their knowing sense of humor, sometimes coupling the laughs and scares together in a stupidly entertaining combination.

The best way to experience this movie, and indeed many horrors, is to turn off your judgmental side and embrace what is on the screen, and if it is well conceived and conducted, you will find yourself having a great time. Such was the case with PA4. As a self-proclaimed fan of the franchise, I certainly did go in with the hopeful intention of enjoying it, but I did not expect myself to get as wrapped up in the proceedings as I did. It helps if you’re in great company with like-minded people (I would say our masculinity is in crisis on evidence of some the sounds that I and a couple of my friends produced… you know who you are), but when a film is just going for balls out, well developed scares, both old and new, in as competent a fashion as this, then it is hard not to get wrapped up in the proceedings. Yes, cracks are certainly beginning to show within the well-worn tropes of this franchise, and I think that the inevitable fifth installment should be the last installment (so they’d better make it a good one). But, for now, we have another strong installment, that proved to be a great night out at the cinema for me and my friends. Perfect horror fun for this Halloween!

4/5- A 3-star movie, but a 4-star cinema experience; the franchise may be showing some cracks, but that doesn’t stop Paranormal Activity 4 from being a hugely satisfying, genuinely funny and scary roller-coaster ride of a movie.

Advertisements