Who is Robbie? How ‘Paranormal Activity 4’ Adds to a Franchise That’s Already Fun for Puzzle Lovers

By  · Published on October 20th, 2012

We are now four installments into the Paranormal Activity series ‐ five if you include the first spin-off, Tokyo Night ‐ and the movies are starting to feel like episodes in a long-running TV show rather than a succession of film sequels with independently existing story arcs. As Adam noted in his review of Paranormal Activity 4, it’s like watching Lost, particularly in the later years when answers to mysteries were not only kept from fans but those mysteries were joined by new questions. With the latest film appearing to have the lowest reviews, CinemaScore and box office gross since the series began, will fans keep following the Paranormal Activity films until they get all the explanations they seek?

Just as with a show that decreases in quality and increases in frustration (that’s not to necessarily mean Lost), I will likely keep with it out of curiosity. I can be obsessive and exhaustive in my curiosity at times, and if anything, Paranormal Activity 4 has actually piqued my interest more than the other films have, even if it’s just by introducing new characters and taking a leap forward in time, the latter leaving a large gap in our understanding of what’s going on. And I’m not alone. You can find people discussing and offering theories all over the web, including from people who admit the new movie is the worst of the bunch. To them, this is just a weak episode, something all TV shows have now and again and get over.

Before addressing the narrative game that is the Paranormal Activity series, I want to comment on the film at hand and the way in which each installment offers its own stack of picture puzzles. What hooked me into the original film and has kept me playing is the way the found footage style uses the screen for the kinds of exercises that Highlights magazine prepared us for. Each stationary shot becomes a challenge where we have to keep our eyes peeled both for hidden objects and subtle changes. One of the issues I have with PA4 is that there’s not enough of these mise-en-scene games for the eyes, and some are too obvious.

It didn’t help that people in the audience at my screening kept shouting “there’s___” and “look at____” at the screen as if the game was a competition. That obviously spoils a lot of the fun, like someone shouting answers to the crossword puzzle you’re doing over your shoulder. On the fault of the filmmakers, the matter of logic and motivation also contributed to dwindling enjoyment. For instance, every time we saw a scene from the vantage point of a Macbook, it drove me nuts wondering why nobody in this family closes their laptops when they’re not in use. Never mind the issue of these laptops seemingly having the greatest batteries in the world, especially for ones described as “hand-me-downs.”

A weak installment or TV episode is very annoying to me, because in spite of my curiosity about answers, I’m much more of an in-the-moment kind of person who likes playing the game more than finishing it, win or lose. When I do a crossword puzzle or some other word game or whatever, completing it is never satisfying. I have no interest in or use for a completed puzzle. Nor do I have interest in a puzzle I just can’t solve and will never complete. The process of a puzzle that is occupying my brain with just enough difficulty is where there’s enjoyment. Visually, PA4 has some neat tricks but the game isn’t all that challenging or engaging.

Yet, plot-wise, the latest sequel is more demanding and perplexing on a level that, as I said, has me intrigued. There are levels of confusion, though, that I wouldn’t have expected with moviegoers. Some people don’t seem to get that the character Wyatt is in fact the abducted baby from Paranormal Activity 2, even when it’s pointed out that his real name is Hunter and that he was adopted by the family at the center of this film (see the discussion in the comments of this post). The confusion stems from the fact that there is another little boy the same age who is living with Katie, who is Hunter’s aunt and the one who stole him away after becoming demonically possessed.

So, there are new questions raised by the latest film, including those pertaining to how Hunter wound up adopted and the significance and relationship of this new kid, Robbie, and ultimately what happened or will happen to teen protagonist Alex. If we’re to believe filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who’ve only been on board since the third installment, answers to all our questions will arrive in time. “We have an idea for the master plan of this coven, of this enterprise, of this army of darkness, and Toby’s role, Toby’s powers and abilities, who’s Robbie, what’s Hunter’s true purpose,” Schulman told Vulture recently, “and the answers to those questions we reveal piece by piece.”

Will they satisfy? And isn’t it more fun to ponder the answers and come up with theories of our own in the meantime? Although I must admit that today’s tendency from Hollywood, whether in TV or film, to aim for brain-teasing ambiguities to keep audiences involved with their products (and occasionally get panned or praised on the matter, in the case of a Prometheus or Inception), I never get tired of seeing people debating, discussing, analyzing, questioning and speculating about the meaning and the future of a film or TV property. It’s one of the many things that makes the movies akin to religion.

Here are some of the theories I’ve seen so far that I find interesting:

“Haouzy,” commenting at Screen Rant:

my theory on Robbie is that when Katie kidnapped Hunter in PA2 she realised after some time that its not actually Kristi’s kid and that maybe there was a baby swap at the hospital when she gave birth. if this were true it would be a stretch to think it was an accident so that would mean there is someone out there trying to keep this family safe possibly Katies Biological father or grandfather

The Horror Czar, Best-Horror-Movies.com:

There was a woman and her son Robbie who moved into the house across the street from Alex’s house, but since the demon in question is “the possessor of children” (which is mentioned in PA4) the demon possessed Robbie because he lived across the street from Wyatt/Hunter (Wyatt/Hunter was getting to an age where he was ready to meet the demon and fulfill some kind of undisclosed evil plan) and then the possessed Robbie and killed his mother. Once that was done, Katie stepped in as the “mother” to prepare Wyatt/Hunter for the next phase of this demon plan. […] Robbie was hiding in the tree fort so that he wouldn’t be found by the emergency personnel and taken off to a foster home. It was Katie who called Alex’s mother and asked if she could look after Robbie for a little while.

Kenny, Rainy Days & Snowy Nights:

I have some theories. One being, the high pitched rings you hear throughout the film:

So, I’ve heard those high-pitched ringing noises in previous PA films before, but in this one, they seemed to play a part. It seemed as though the ringing was the demon/Toby talking. In the scene where Wyatt would go downstairs at night, we would hear the ringing, then it would stop and Wyatt would answer the demon. The ringing would start again, stop and Wyatt would speak again. If this is something commonly known, my apologies. It’s just something I picked up on.

And these are the kinda rings people around the age 30 and up can’t hear. But perhaps that’s saying something, as children seem to be the only one who can communicate with him/it.

The movie has only been out two days, so we’ll probably hear more ideas as more people see it. Offer your own theories, explanations or general thoughts below.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.