A new family experience unsettling and possibly paranormal things as they take care of a neighbour’s kid named Robbie (Brady Allen). Teen daughter Kathryn Newton is convinced that Robbie is a little bit creepy and ropes her douchy boyfriend into helping her investigate. Meanwhile, Robbie and the family’s similarly aged boy Wyatt seem to be bonding, and that’s when things get even weirder. Real-life couple Alexondra Lee and the late Stephen Dunham (who died after filming, tragically) play Newton’s parents, typical Doubting Thomas’s.
It’s not supposed to be like this. Oh sure, I could say that “Friday the 13th Part 3” and “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” are the best films in a crap series, but for the most part, sequels are supposed to get progressively worse, not better. The first “Paranormal Activity” was a pretty effective ‘found footage’ horror film that even managed to make me a little uneasy during the middle of the day. The second one was appalling in its blatant and lazy mimicry of the first film. I was never able to get into it because I already knew to expect a whole lot of nothing before shit started getting fucked up, and thus spent most of the film sitting on my hands. The third one, well that was even worse, a shameful and frankly desperate cash grab. So this 2012 film from directors Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman, and writer Christopher Landon (the same team behind “Paranormal Activity 3”) has to be the worst one of all, right? Actually it’s surprisingly watchable. I know, I’m shocked too, but it’s the truth.
The funny thing is, it’s not even all that different, it simply works better than the previous too, if a long way from the first film’s effectiveness. The characters are the most likeable since the first film, the cinematography by Doug Emmett shows some really good shot composition, with creepiness turning up in the corner of the frame silently, which is always creepier than some kind of loud musical sting. Emmett also supplies relatively steady handheld camerawork without it being so steady that it shatters the illusion. I also have to credit a particularly brilliant piece of misdirection involving a chandelier. That one got me! There’s also a legitimately upsetting and horrifying bit involving a bathtub that thankfully turns out to be a fake-out. Sick bastards. Meanwhile, I vaguely recognised Alexondra Lee but not in any way that I was able to pinpoint where, so I just assumed I was wrong, until I saw her name in the credits. Even then I had to check IMDb to see whether it was “Dawson’s Creek” or “Party of Five” I remembered her from. Turns out it was the latter, and probably “Boston Public” too, but boy that’s going back a long way, unlike the previous two films that featured a fairly prominent cast member of “24”. If lead actress Kathryn Newton doesn’t go on to something else after this, I’ll be very surprised. She’s particularly good, and has something about her that is very appealing. Brady Allen’s Robbie, meanwhile, is the creepiest kid since “Orphan”. The little shit is unsettling from moment one- but is he the one you need to keep your eye on? Cute “Shining” reference involving a very familiar-looking toy tricycle, by the way.
It’s a real shame that this is “Paranormal Activity 4” and not “Paranormal Activity 2” because it’s a respectable follow-up. It’s nothing great, and apparently everyone else hated it, but I was seriously expecting a turkey and this is nothing of the sort.