Paranormal Activity 4 (R) ★½

Review Date: October 19th, 2012

A Nevada family notices that the young boy living across the street always seems to be on his own. His single mother is evidently very busy, so the little boy appears drawn to our protagonist family, and even tends to turn up in their treehouse. One night, the boy's mother becomes ill and the kind family takes him in. Unfortunately, they are also unwittingly inviting into their home an invisible boogeyman that, along with a certain brunette in a tank top, has come to define a franchise.

The fourth installment of any film series runs the risk of becoming stale, but horror sequels are especially susceptible to growing repetitive or, in the worst-case scenario, declining sharply in quality. Up to now, the Paranormal Activity films have maintained a healthy level of fright; getting plenty of mileage on what seemed a limited premise. Unfortunately for Paranormal Activity 4, it seems as if the intent was to exhaust the franchise by running the premise thin. It's not simply a matter of refusing to bring anything new to the table; Paranormal 4 spends its frustrating runtime happily leaping into pitfalls it had largely avoided.

Pursuant to the tradition of its predecessors, Paranormal Activity 4 is a cacophony of clangs and bangs all designed to startle far more than scare and is by far the laziest of the films in the series. It reaches a point wherein the thrills become so cheap that a vast majority of them are not even symptomatic of the titular paranormal activity. In fact, there are more red herrings in this movie than actual scares ("actual scares" being a term used here rather loosely). When the origin of the quick jump is revealed to be a mischievous boyfriend, a clumsy house resident, or, most aggravatingly, a cat, the film becomes an experiment in misdirection and contrivance. The one area in which the frights are actually functional is in the very few instances when Paranormal 4 stretches to find previously unexplored methods of capturing the ghostly events. These moments are also the only instances of lingering creepiness in the movie.

And yet this one redeeming quality is quickly undone by PA4's many other techno blunders. The burning question in any found footage situation revolves around the motivation to continue filming in the face of supernatural mayhem. That is, why would anyone keep filming when the proverbial fecal matter strikes the fan? While the first three films found fair to ingenious methods of circumnavigating this problem, Paranormal Activity 4 is so unconcerned with feasibility that it resorts to woefully convenient schemes for recording the poltergeist's antics. Without giving too much away, let's just say that the film creates situations so unconducive to continual recording that asking the audience to subscribe to it is patronizing. Also, there is no internal consistency for how the various recording devices are maintained or afforded such versatility.

Shoddier than Paranormal Activity 4's technological complex is its dearth of character development and its flimsy story mechanics. This is the first film in the series that has not directly focused on the immediate family of Katie (Katie Featherston). The introduction to a wholly new family unit should necessitate an emphasis on character development. We need to like them, or failing that at least know them, in order to succumb to the tension of their inevitable peril. And yet the only two characters we get to know, and then only sparsely, are the daughter and her boyfriend. The rest of the life forms in the film are merely there to occupy the old dark house.

The plot is truly where Paranormal Activity 4 shows its weakness. Like Paranormal Activity 3, the most interesting conceptual set piece of the film is revealed minutes before the credits roll. Unlike the last entry however, the only effort at all exerted in this outing is compartmentalized in those brief minutes. The rest of the paltry story is stretched thin over a clunky series of unsatisfying and uneven devices in a mechanical rehashing of what we've seen before. There is no build, no escalation, and the result is pure boredom; the one unforgivable sin of a film like this.

Top that off with a third-act twist so nonsensical it's insulting and it's clear to see this franchise is in trouble. A changing of the guard at director is sorely needed before this nosedive is impossible to correct. rated this film 1 1/2 stars.