Paranormal Activity 4 follows the tried-and-true formula of the previous three installments — a family terrorized at night be unseen forces, all captured on night-vision video — but critics say nonetheless it packs a mighty scare.
As People noted, it may not be as disturbing as the other installments, which in a way have already conditioned audiences to the kind of bump-in-the-night surprises they now expect, but Paranormal Activity 4 is “still quite scary.”
Paranormal Activity 4 starts with a refresher for audience members who may not remember the end of the second movie. A possessed Katie is missing and has kidnapped her baby nephew, Hunter.
The movie introduces a new character, Alex, and her family. As so often happens with the families in Paranormal Activity movies, Alex happens to have night vision cameras conveniently placed around the house. Though the plot and mechanisms of the movies can be a bit contrived, Paranormal Activity 4 is still able to maintain the “nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat adrenaline bursts” present throughout the past three movies.
As People notes:
In all the Paranormal movies, there are chunks of time in which there’s not much going on as cameras silently pan around a sleepy house late at night. That’s where the filmmakers still have a good thing going. Even the fourth time around, surveying the big screen for any sign of the scare you know is coming is great fun for horror movie lovers.
Of course, the use of subtlety has progressively declined between the first Paranormal and the fourth; In this one, we see things like Alex levitating above her bed. (Personally, I preferred the more quietly terrifying footage in the original, like the bed sheets eerily moving on their own while everyone’s asleep).
Not all critics are as enamored with Paranormal Activity 4 and its reliance on the same plot structure and scares as the previous three.
“Fairly mild in tone and riffing — if not quite ripping — off a collection of horror classics that includes The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby and Poltergeist, both the franchise’s premise and its execution nevertheless remain rudimentary, with the narrative and character backstories representing more of a sketch than a fully realized vision of the supernatural world that Katie inhabits.”
“The ‘PA’ formula is tried and true,” she wrote of Paranormal Activity 4. ” Long stretches of placid green night-cam footage manage to make your flesh creep as you try to figure out if you just saw movement in the corner. Then something eventually flies dramatically across the screen, and no matter how much you tried to gird yourself, you jump. Repeat, repeat, repeat.”