horror movies

A Paranormal Activity 4 Breakdown for the Horror Purists

It’s October, and that means it’s horror-movie time. Not that the other eleven months of the year aren’t also horror-movie time, but Hollywood knows from scheduling around holidays, and Halloween is fast approaching. Every weekend this month sees a major horror release, last weekend’s being the latest entry in the Paranormal Activity franchise. (In the weeks prior, we looked at Sinister and V/H/S. Up next, Silent Hill: Revelation.) Vulture’s Horror Enthusiast will be watching each film and breaking down how it does or does not meet the genre’s well-known specifications. Here’s our checklist of how Paranormal Activity 4 satisfies your horror-film needs. (Spoilers follow.)

The fourth entry in the ridiculously successful low-budget Paranormal Activity series; directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the duo who helmed Paranormal Activity 3.

Horror Subgenre
Found footage (it’s basically the standard-bearer for the subgenre at this point), evil-child thriller (The Omen, etc.), suburban horror (Poltergeist).

Welcome Clichés
That rumble on the soundtrack right before something bad happens; scenes cut off right in the middle of sentences — a great way to use editing of innocuous scenes to keep the audience off balance; the loud, heavier-than-any-human-should-be stomping noises. Basically, these movies do sound really well.

Unwelcome Clichés
That line about a virgin needing to be sacrificed; people calling out “hello” after hearing loud, offscreen noises instead of running far, far away; parents that are more dismissive and clueless than any parent has the right to be; too many people appear out of seemingly thin air.

Is the Internet used to research a piece of occult arcana?
Yes. Apparently, a circle in a triangle is an ancient Hittite symbol that signifies something baaaaaad.

Foreboding lines of dialogue.
“A very large knife. An inappropriately large knife.”
“He does not like you.” “Who?” “You’ll find out.”

Completely illogical lines of dialogue.
“There’s a bunch of cars at Robbie’s house, and I’m gonna go check it out.”

Is there an homage to another, better horror movie?
One of the young boys scoots around the kitchen and living room on his low-rider toy tricycle, à la Danny in The Shining.

Is there one completely insane shot?
Two words: witch army.

Locations Where Bad Things Happen
A suburban home.
An even bigger and darker suburban home.

Ways in Which People Die Horribly
Neck broken by a demon-possessed human.
Dragged through a dark house and dispatched of offscreen.
Hurled up toward a living-room ceiling and dropped facedown on the floor.
Killed, somehow, by a demon-possessed human.

Place on Horror Quality Continuum
This Halloween month has already seen one very good found-footage horror film in V/H/S (and one film in Sinister that incorporates found footage). But given that the Paranormal Activity franchise essentially solidified found footage’s hold on popular culture, we expected more from this one. It’s surprising (and disappointing) to find that PA4 ranks so far below its three predecessors. Though the last five minutes, as with each of the previous films, provides a “holy shit” rush of deaths and screaming and shaky handheld camera action (also, witch army), there are unforgiveably long stretches in which no plot is advanced, no scares are set up, no tension is to be found. It is truly a placeholder film for the already announced Paranormal Activity 5.

A PA 4 Breakdown for the Horror Purists