Paranormal Activity 4

**

Reviewed by: David Graham

Picking up the dangling threads from the climax of series high-water mark Paranormal Activity 2, this fourth installment of the Saw-conquering found footage franchise rumbles on as shamelessly on as the torture porn juggernaut it's usurped at the Halloween box office. Its release has been timed like clockwork just as much as its thrills, and by now the edge has well and truly worn off Oren Peli's primal fear-tapping set-up, despite the best efforts of returning Catfish duo Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Fans will find just enough going on to keep them turned on for the duration but the uninitiated may as well forget it (despite a lame recap opening), and the by-now customarily abrupt ending is one of the most infuriating the genre has slapped an audience in the face with to date.

Alex is your typical American teenager - glued to her laptop, lusted after by her boy pals but generally well-adjusted and comfortable in her family life. When a new neighbour moves in across the street however, she starts experiencing strange domestic disturbances, and a creepy kid keeps popping up around every corner, even wandering onto her parents' property. When the family are obliged to give young interloper Robbie shelter for a few days, he forms an insidious bond with Alex's younger brother Wyatt, while his imaginary friend Toby starts threatening her best friend Ben. Setting up webcam surveillance all over the house, the pair of teenagers attempt to capture proof that something supernatural is going on under Alex's parents' noses, but as Robbie's hold over Wyatt grows stronger, Alex realizes there may be a larger and more frightening power at play.

Once again, a slow burn first half is enlivened by sly humour - often at the expense of technology and our unblinking attachment to it - as well as some surprisingly mature drama, with another agreeably dysfunctional family fleshed out by some of the most believable acting the series has seen so far. Yet another crop of unknowns has wisely been employed to maintain the slender sense of realism; appealing heroine Kathryn Newton makes an amusing sparring partner for hormonal emo Matt Shively, staying the right side of annoying with his teen Will Ferrell schtick, while Aiden Lovekamp and Brady Allen are impressively vulnerable and sinister respectively as the younger pair of friends. Stephen Dunham and Alexondra Lee also contribute solid turns as the easy-to-relate-to white collar parents, with their own set of issues bolstering the voyeuristic sense that we're eavesdropping on a real family unit; they spend a lot of time apart and at one point have a heated argument over Alex taking sleeping pills.

Unfortunately, original victim Katie Featherston still can't act for her life, and considering she's required to be threatening here, that's a huge chunk of the story's power to frighten the audience diminished. Too many of the boos rely lazily on things crashing into the frame from out of shot, with far too many red herring jolts and the jumpy editing filling in for the lack of tension. Where previous entries contributed some inventive set-ups and imaginative chills to the haunted house genre, the sole new gimmick here is an unabashed plug for the Xbox Kinect movement recognition tool, its laser-sensing night-vision transforming the central living room into a nightmarish pin-cushion landscape from which anything might arise to spook us. It's creepily novel for about two minutes but quickly grows tiresome when it becomes clear its potential for generating suspense is about as limited as its use as a gaming tool; what does eventually appear is underwhelming to say the least, and the trick soon grows tired, not to mention eye-straining.

Elsewhere, a couple of crucial penny-drop revelations linking this new tale to its predecessors are handled in such skillful matter-of-fact fashion as to get the audience back involved with the ghostly shenanigans, while the adults take a back-seat once more to exploit our fear of the children coming to harm. Incredulity slowly takes over though, with too many life-endangering events not eliciting realistic responses from anyone except for Alex, while the supernatural aspect of the storyline feels like a crude fall-back for cheap frights that have been done to death in the previous films. The fleet-footed finale looks like it might match that of the headlong mania that erupted towards the end of PA3, but instead the directors resort to a cheap if effective door-closer that will be the series' death knell and final insult for many viewers. Surely at this stage of the game they could have sustained it a little longer?

Ultimately, PA4 doesn't expand upon the developing mythology enough to satisfy the films' followers or come up with enough new tricks to convert the sceptics. The fine acting, compelling script and carefully constructed domestic atmosphere are enough to maintain interest for most of the short though stretched run-time, but the pay-off is nowhere near as satisfying as it should be for a franchise at its fourth entry. It's hard to care what comes next, but no doubt there will be more activity next Halloween, and viewers will no doubt be duped into parting with their cash again, but this once innovative series is getting seriously past its sell-by date.

Reviewed on: 06 Nov 2012
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The arrival of mysterious new neighbours unsettles a suburban family.
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Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman

Writer: Christopher Landon, Chad Feehan

Starring: Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Brady Allen, Aiden Lovekamp

Year: 2012

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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