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Paranormal Activity 4 is in the midst of a strong opening weekend, where it’s on track to earn around $33.5 million. Though that’s less than the $52.6 million the horror franchise’s third installment opened to a year ago, the $5 million-budgeted film should easily win the weekend box office.
Co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, and screenwriter Christopher Landon return to the Paramount Pictures series to introduce a new family, made up of teenage daughter Alex (Kathryn Newton), six-year-old son Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp) and their parents (Alexondra Lee and the late Stephen Dunham).
After single mom Katie (Katie Featherston, from the previous films) and her son Robbie (Brady Allen) move into the neighborhood, Katie is suddenly hospitalized, and Robbie is taken in by Alex’s family.
That’s when things get strange.
So how did the latest installment of the low-budget series fare with the critics? Its Rotten Tomatoes score of 29 percent shows most critics weren’t impressed. (The first, second and third films received 89 percent, 59 percent, and 68 percent, respectively.)
Below is a sampling of what the critics had to say about Paranormal Activity 4.
The Hollywood Reporter’s Justin Lowe felt the filmmakers “seem short on new ideas.”
“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.”
Lowe also noted while the film graduates from surveillance footage to phone and laptop cameras, “little has changed visually in the style of the filmmakers’ alternation of static and frantic handheld shots, mixed with a surfeit of distracting closeups.”
New York Post critic Sara Stewart wrote “The ‘PA’ formula is tried and true. 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.”
However, she concluded Paranormal 4 is “serviceable, if you’re looking for a few shivery communal scares.”
The Village Voice’s Chuck Wilson wrote: “As always, we the audience witness much more of the footage than its subjects, so poor Alex never sees herself, for example, floating above her own bed while sound asleep.” He also panned the idea of the filmmaker’s “lame attempt” creating a “supernatural mythology” to explain everything, nothing “their real energies go to amping up the jarring sound cues, darting shadows, and last-shot shocker (so goofily weird this time that you’ll laugh out loud) that make this franchise a perennial crowd-pleaser.”
In one of the relatively few positive reviews, AV Club’s Scott Tobias compared the film’s charms to that of a Wendy’s or McDonalds.
“The formula is as rigid as the fixins of a fast-food sandwich—tastes the same in every city. But the effects are eternally reliable,” he wrote. He also praised one of the film’s most suspenseful moments, in which the teen star leaves her room to investigate a noise.
“All the audience gets is an empty, static shot of her bedroom wall and an open doorframe leading into her closet. That frame will be filled by something at some point, whether it’s a specter or the girl returning to the conversation, but in the meantime, viewers are invited to scan around in the darkness and wonder about the terrible things that might be lurking in the shadows or off screen entirely.”
Like many of the critics, The Wrap’s Alonso Duralde was bored by the film’s formula, but he did like the “engaging” relationship between teenage Alex and her boyfriend (Matt Shively).
“They’re funny, they’re flirty, and they’re smart enough to realize that something weird is going on (it’s Ben who wires all the computers in the house to shoot surveillance footage), making them far more interesting than 95% of most other horror-movie teenagers.”
He hastened to add: “But praising a “Paranormal Activity” movie for the teen relationship is like lauding a restaurant for the music they play; it’s nice, but it’s not what you came for.”
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