The first “Paranormal Activity” spooked critics and audiences alike because it brought something new to the dusty, musty, dime-a-dozen world of scary movies.
Unfortunately, Part 4 of the series stretches the novel “home video horror” concept past the point of staleness and is so dull that “Paranormal Inactivity” would have been a more fitting title.
“Paranormal Activity 4” is a sequel to the second film in the franchise, but focuses on a new family this time around. Alex (Kathryn Newton) is a typical teenage girl who spends most of her time chatting online with her goofy boyfriend, Ben (Matt Shively), and trying to cope with her parent’s crumbling marriage.
When a creepy kid from across the street comes to live with them after his mother is hospitalized, the boy becomes fast friends with Alex’s younger brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp). Strange things start happening around the house, and Alex convinces her boyfriend to set all of the computers in the house to record video day and night, in hopes of catching some paranormal activity on camera. The videos that these cameras take make up the entirety of the movie, just like in the previous films.
The plot barrels headlong into a quagmire of horror movie clichés, including, but not limited to, spooky children and their spooky imaginary friends who tell them to do things, parents who don’t believe their kids until it’s too late, and a mysterious cult. The movie takes a long time to get to places that audiences have seen many times before, and ends right as things get interesting.
The “found footage” recipe gets blander every year, and “Paranormal Activity 4” has no spice to toss into the pot. It’s also hard to swallow the idea that a frightened pre-teen girl, alone in her house, would investigate loud banging noises armed with only her laptop.
The movie also skirts around the fact that she is spying on her entire family without their knowledge, an invasion of privacy that is far more disturbing than any of the demonic high jinks the family is forced to endure.
The “wait, stare and scare” style for which the series is known returns in force, requiring audiences to stare at length at open doors, empty living rooms, people watching TV, cooking dinner, etc. The suspense of waiting for something to happen is the lifeblood of horror movies, but “Paranormal Activity 4’s” waiting game lulls the audience into a sense of boredom that encourages them to watch the seconds tick by on the video camera’s display while they wait for something – anything -- to happen.
When a chair moves on its own or a chandelier sways or a creepy kid suddenly appears, it will no doubt make audiences jump. However, it’s the kind of scare that makes one feel like an idiot for falling for it, rather than something that will keep them awake at night, blankets clutched over their head. The thrills are cheap, the plot is lethargic, and the whole thing feels like a quick cashgrab from audiences who should know better.
The only thing scary about the “Paranormal Activity” series this late in the game is the fear that they’ll never stop making them.
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