I hope you had a wonderful All Hallows Eve. I just saw Paranormal Activity 4 and below will be my review of it. There be Spoilers Ahead!
Paranormal Activity 4 (henceforth referred to as PNA4) was a good movie; but by far the weakest of the series. PNA4 will very likely be the last movie in the series that I will pay to see in theatres. PNA4 still did a good job of scaring me, I was jumping in my seat quite often. I found the reveal that ”Dwayne” was actually the kidnapped Hunter from the first movie was quite interesting. And the kinect light show was pretty cool.
And perhaps the strongest aspect of PNA4, and indeed the whole series, is the many scary scenes set during the day. The daughters daytime exploration of Kate and Robbie’s house was terrifying and that quick shot of the mysterious padlocked door certainly whetted my curiosity. It’s incredibly easy to scare us during the night for the night is dark and full of terror. Something that sticks out about many classic horror films: Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm street etc. is that most of the action takes place during the day and many of the scariest scenes occur when it is bright and sunny. Now that I’m done with the good let’s delve into the bad.
One of the things that made the first 3 PNA movies good was their strong and realistic family dynamics. PNA3 did a particularly good job of this, especially impressive considering that it was a prequel. In all 3 movies the families portrayed all seemed real, every member was fleshed out and the way the families interacted with each other, their neighbours, and their friends felt real. PNA4 completely failed to replicate a real family; the family members just felt like crude stereotypes.
A moment that really stuck out at me was when, quite a ways into the movie, we see the family cat move about the house. I played close attention for the rest of the movie and not once did anyone in that house pet the cat, play with it, call it by name, or even acknowledge its presence. I saw no litter-box scratching post, or water bowl, there was no banter about being careful to not let the cat out of the house. This was a huge missed opportunity to humanize the family more. I can easily imagine a scene where the boyfriend gives catnip to the cat then making a joke about drug use or how much he loves ”pussy”. Or the daughter taking photos of her cat to turn into a meme! The German Shepard in one of the earlier movies was an important part of the family and the brutal attack it suffered at the hands of Toby the demon was a turning point in our perception of Toby; what he did to the dog clearly established that he was extremely dangerous in a way his previous shenanigans never had. A similar scene with the family cat might have increased the tension and raised the stakes for the family.
All of the first 3 PNA movies had nice little comedic scenes that lightened the tension and made us like and care about the characters. PNA3 did a very good job of mixing in funny moments with the increasing terror. PNA4 barely attempted to add a little levity, the daughters boyfriend was supposed to be the comedic relief but he fell flat (if only they had him interact with the cat!).
A friend of mine made a great point when he said that the movie did not look like it was found footage; something that the first 3 movies did a much better job of doing. This hurt the movie as much of the terror of the first 3 movies was the conceit that these horrible hauntings had actually happened to real people.
As I’ve mentioned I liked the twist that ”Dwayne” was actually Hunter. Still it should have been explained why exactly his Aunt Kate, who murdered his parents, gave Hunter up for adoption only to movie in across the street from him 6 years later and then eventually take him back. Did it have something to do with Hunter needing to kill a virgin before Toby could take full possession of him? If so why doesn’t Kate just raise Hunter and then kidnap some virgin when Hunter is old enough to be possessed by Toby? And why was Kate pretending Robbie was her son? Why use Robbie to get close to Hunter when she could have easily just kidnapped him?
Which brings us to the biggest enigma of PNA4, Robbie. I had assumed Robbie was Hunter until we found out that ”Dwayne” was actually Hunter. So who was Robbie? He clearly wasn’t a normal socks and sandals wearing boy. He is never seen again after Kate retakes Hunter so a theory I have is that Robbie was just a manifestation of Toby, or a subordinate helper demon, whose job was to prepare Hunter for his demonic destiny. Or was Robbie another child who Kate had kidnapped? One who was also promised to Toby by the coven? Or was he being groomed by the coven as a future husband of one of their members? Perhaps they needed a sure supply of future male children to appease Toby.
It’s a shame that this series wasn’t planned from the beginning. The triangle in the circle symbol would have been a great thread connecting all of the movies. The reveal of Toby as an ancient Hittite fertility demon was a good choice. Most people have probably never heard of the Hittites but they can guess that they lived a long time ago in a faraway place. Which is true, the Hittites lived over 3000 years ago in modern day Turkey. This reveal could have been better handled though. There’s nothing scary about reading an internet page on ancient symbols. Why not have them take a trip to the local library and find a creepy old book that reveals some of the truth? Or find an old book in the attic that has the symbol but some pages have been mysteriously torn out, or even better find the charred remains of an old book with the triangle within a circle symbol the only thing left legible.
Indeed a great subplot would have been learning Toby’s history and finding out how he managed to survive the fall of the Hittite empire. I would also like to know why the coven is all white when Toby is from ancient Turkey; wouldn’t it be more likely that the coven was mostly Turkic or Arabic? I’ll be posting on this ”ancient evil” type of story later.
If you have already seen the first 3 PNA movies then I would definitely recommend seeing PNA4. If this is your first time coming to the series you might as well wait for its arrival on netflix rather than spending money in a theatre. Personally I hope that they end the series rather than pumping out more sequels in an increasingly cynical cash grab. Thanks for reading, and check back for more regular blog posts!