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Movie Review: 'Paranormal Activity 4'

By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060


Or should I be screaming "four," because another sequel is screaming our way and, like its three predecessors, it's a scare package, plain and simple?

Paranormal Activity 4, the third sequel in the popular supernatural horror-thriller series, should by all rights have us singing the "enough-already blues."   But darn if it doesn't still deliver.

The original Paranormal Activity (2007) was a clever and legitimately frightening "found-footage" horror chiller about a couple disturbed by what seems to be a demonic presence in their suburban home.

(2½ stars out of 4)

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010), a sequel that turned out to be a prequel, applied the same minimalist, low-budget formula with perhaps even more spine-tingling success:  fear and dread and heebie-jeebies were in abundance, gore was not.

By the time we got to Paranormal Activity 3 (2011), involving members of the same extended family, the central conceit had worn rather thin, even though there were memorable individual moments that rang the terror bell.

We now arrive at Paranormal Activity 4, which doesn't have to make sense, doesn't have to impress us, doesn't have to stay with us when we leave the theatre.  All it has to do is deliver the shivers while we watch.

And that it does.

Set in Henderson, Nev., it's directed by the same duo who were at the helm of PA3 –- Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost (Catfish).  It picks up five years after PA2.

This is, in fact, the first film in the series since the original to take place after the original.  Got that straight?

The screenplay by Christopher Landon and Chad Feehan involves, to no one's surprise, spooky happenings throughout a suburban house.  There are a new family across the street who, of course, won't stay across the street.  And we'll spend our time staring intently at this seemingly ordinary setting for signs of the supernatural.

Of course, ghostly occurrences are the order of the day, and they escalate as the film progresses, employing multiple perspectives using a variety of recording devices, including videophones, laptop webcams, and especially Xbox Kinect. And as the sense of dread develops, jump scares and shock scares pop up with regularity.

So we sit in the dark and travel down the same road we've traveled three times before: we look, see, listen, hear, fear, gulp, giggle at our own vulnerability, then start looking again.

Story values are at this point in short supply.  But it doesn't matter.  Nor do the references to horror classics like The Exorcist, The Shining, Rosemary's Baby, and The Omen.  But we are not yet in the grips of the expected case of dispiriting sequelitis.

Going in, it was difficult to escape the feeling that the producers were operating on the assumption that fans of the series would show up for a crowded-theatre experience and respond no matter what.  So it's a pleasant surprise to report that they will not feel cheated.

Needless to say, this unnecessary but viable sequel is aimed only at viewers who have seen any or all of the first three installments.  But despite the fact that the novelty factor has significantly diminished, plenty of terror still gets generated as they peruse each and every background for signs of paranormal activity.

So we'll turn a surveillance camera on 2½ stars out of 4 for Paranormal Activity 4. Looks like the series is alive for PA5.

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