Young Elise (Ava Kolker) did not enjoy much of a childhood. Her connections with the ghostly world were not well received by her father (Josh Stewart) who was abusive and violent anyway, and her timid, yet supportive mother (Tessa Ferrer) was met with an unhappy and untimely end for which Elise feels largely responsible. After running away as a teenager (Hana Hayes), Elise is sure that she will never have to see that unhappy house ever again, but alas, fate brings her in on a new case set within the very walls of her initial torment.
A fairly formulaic entry to the franchise, we once again enjoy the company of awkward nerd duo, Specs (Leigh Whannell, Mr Writer/Producer) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), who's uncomfortable patter did a good job of breaking up the scenes. We are also introduced to Elise's estranged brother, Christian (Bruce Davison) and her two nieces, Melissa (Spencer Locke) and Imogen (Caitlin Gerard). I can completely understand Christian's anger towards his sister who abandoned him with their abusive father alone as soon as she was legally able. What I didn't understand was the girls' sudden repartee with Elise; an aunt that they had never known existed. It all seemed a bit sudden, a shade more than curiosity and... unlikely.
The film offers a few fun jump scares and skilfully holds back often enough to deliver a surprise every now and again. The setting is the familiar haunted house of the series, but it works well.
I do not dislike Lin Shaye. I have seen her in plenty of things where I've liked her performance and I would say that my dislike of Elise Rainier is not due to Shaye's performance but the character itself. It's pleasant to watch an older female take the lead in a film, especially as such a flawed character. Elise is not a heroine, per se, she is a woman exploiting her unusual skillset for money and to soothe her own guilt. Not unlike the character of Angel in the Whedonverse who saves people in an attempt to make up for his past transgressions, Elise is driven by good intentions but also selfish ones. Helping people makes her feel better about her past. And there's nothing wrong with that, in fact, I enjoy that aspect of the character. I think what I dislike about Elise as a character is the way she responds to everything. I think the intention is to make her appear strong and methodical, but to me she reads as cold and a little flat.
The monster of the piece enjoys some good scare factor but is a little over-revealed and loses a bit of its edge early on, although the design innovation is commendable.
As fourth sequels go, it's pretty decent, but it does feel like they may be running out of ideas to keep this particular branch of the franchise going.
[Image: Universal Pictures, et al]