Not the Best of the Series, but So Far I’m Still On Board
Main Cast: Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively
Director: Henry Joost, Airel Schulman
Five years after the events of Paranormal Activity 1 and 2 (and eighteen years after Paranormal Activity 3), 15-year-old Alex Nelson finds her home life slightly askew when a new neighbor kid, Robbie–who’s only moved in across the street within the past few days–is suddenly their new houseguest. It seems Robbie’s mother is in the hospital and, with no relatives and no one else to turn to, Alex’s parents have somehow been tasked with the boy’s well-being.
Strange enough, for sure, but with Robbie comes a change in Alex’s six-year-old adopted brother Wyatt’s behavior, plus a slew of unexplainable occurrences about the house. Welcome to Paranormal Activity 4. There are mysterious thumps late at night. Alex finds a trail of toys laid out in the hall leading to Wyatt’s room. Holly, Alex’s mother, turns away for only a moment and when she turns back, the knife she’d been using has vanished. And when Alex’s boyfriend Ben shows the kids the tracking dots on the family Xbox Kinect, they see a mysterious humanoid figure sitting next to Robbie. This is most likely Toby, Robbie and Wyatt’s invisible friend (shades of Paranormal Activity 3).
Luckily Alex is able to capture it all as Ben set up the family computers to record all day throughout the house. And luckily the Nelson family has a lot of computers that seemingly never leave their spots. And thank God none of those computers are facing the pool. I don’t know if I could take another movie full of watching the pool pump.
In typical horror movie fashion, at least when kids are involved, the parents remain oblivious to everything, and even when Alex tries to shows them recorded proof, they insist it’s movie magic manipulated by Ben who was always recording everything before Robbie ever showed up. So the plucky teens are forced to be constantly on guard and to do all the expositional research themselves. What they discover is a coven of witches trying to summon a demon and allow him to possess a young boy.
Oh, and late one night Wyatt goes downstairs and has an argument with an invisible entity about whether or not his real name is Wyatt (as he insists) or Hunter (as it insists). And it also tells the adopted boy that his real family needs him back.
So, Paranormal Activity 4, the first real sequel in the series, is a thing. It’s not bad. It’s not great. I’ve seen it a few times now and I never find myself dreading the prospect of watching it again, but it’s also not one of those movies I find myself jonesing for from time to time. It’s just another movie in the PA series for me.
It has a few tense moments (nothing to even compare with those in the previous installment) and a few chilling lines of dialogue (Robbie tells Ben, “He does not like you,” and when Ben asks who doesn’t like him, Robbie replies, “You’ll find out.”
I’m not convinced every instance of footage in this movie is valid. I’ll buy the “security camera” angle with Ben having rigged all the family computers to record nonstop through their webcams. But in several cases, Alex seems to just be walking around the house with a little handheld. And the climax of the movie with (SPOILERS) Alex being attacked in her bedroom and then running out of the house and across the street to find her dad, she’s suddenly running with her handheld when, only a few seconds before, she was being thrown across the room by something she couldn’t see. In such an instance, there’s not a person in the world who’s going to stop long enough to grab and turn on a camera as they’re running for their lives out of the house. But it is what it is, I guess, and Paranormal Activity 4 made 6 times its budget back opening weekend, so maybe it wasn’t THAT big a deal to most people?
15-year-old Kathryn Newton carries the movie as Alex, and while I don’t think she really had a lot to work with, she does a decent job. But then, acting against Brady Allen as the totally creepy Robbie, it couldn’t have been too difficult to convey unease.
Overall, this was a good addition to the franchise and the mythology. It’s not terrible world-shatteringly important to the point you simply HAVE to see it, it’s never going to make a “1000 movies to see before you die” list–unless you’re making a list of Paranromal Activity movies to see that’s only 6 movies long. But for what it is, it does its job admirably.
Having said that I still have one big lingering question. As I said, I’ve seen Paranormal Activity 4 a few times, but each time I come away wondering who the hell is Robbie?
It’s revealed about halfway that Robbie’s “mother” is Katie. It’s also revealed that Wyatt is really Katie’s nephew Hunter, whom she took from his crib after killing his parents at the end of Paranormal Activity 2. It’s five years later. Somewhere along the way, Hunter/Wyatt was given to the Nelsons to adopt. And now, after some time has passed for whatever reason, Katie has come to reclaim him and complete some ritual to bond the demon Toby to him? I’m still a little iffy on the whole demon worship angle of this series, but that’s neither here nor there right now. Right now is all about who the hell is Robbie?
Did Katie need a way to get Hunter back, so she snatched some random 6 year old and brainwashed him into thinking he was Robbie? Or did she give Hunter up so he could be adopted, and then she adopted Robbie and raised him with the sole purpose of, 5 years later, infiltrating that family and bringing her nephew back to her? If that’s the case, why give up Hunter/Wyatt at all? I mean, the whole thing doesn’t make any sense when you really dig into the logic of Paranormal Activity 4. For me, this part of the story sticks out like a sore thumb and leaves me baffled every time I see it.
The most I can do is just tell myself that maybe it’ll be addressed in a future sequel. At this point, it looks like The Ghost Dimension is the last movie in the franchise, and it’s the only one that, to date, I haven’t yet seen. So fingers crossed, but I’m not holding my breath just yet, and if anyone has any theories to help explain it, I’d love to hear them.
C. Dennis Moore is the author of over 60 published short stories and novellas in the speculative fiction genre. Most recent appearances were in the Dark Highlands 2, What Fears Become, Dead Bait 3 and Dark Highways anthologies. His novels are Revelations, and the Angel Hill stories, The Man in the Window, The Third Floor, The Ghosts of Mertland and The Flip. He is writing another Angel Hill novel called Return to Angel Hill with co-author David Bain.