Don't look for anything new, aside from the recording technology, in found footage fright film 'Paranormal Activity 4,' starring Kathryn Newton.(Photo: Dean Hendler, Paramount Pictures)
The franchise that capitalized on the found-footage craze has gotten lost.
There's virtually nothing new in the dull Paranormal Activity 4 (*
* stars out of four; rated R; opens Friday nationwide) except for a
modification in the method of documenting the spooky shenanigans. Most
of the creepy stuff is recorded via a laptop webcam or video chats
instead of a standard video camera.
The Paranormal movies
hinge on the increasingly popular concept of found footage, in which
large swaths of the story are presented as a homemade video capturing
unseen ghostly events. While the first Paranormal Activity in
2007 was fresh and genuinely frightening, the concept has grown stale
and gimmicky. In this sloppy installment, some visuals don't even fall
within found-footage parameters or adhere to the story's internal logic.
MORE: 'Found-footage' movies are so successful, it's scary
terrors lack originality or are never fully realized. Rather than
moving the story forward by fleshing out the ghost story that's been
evolving over the previous three films, directors Henry Joost and Ariel
Schulman rely on goosing the audience with false scares and bland jolts.
With its nerve-jangling deployment of ordinary household items
gone mysteriously awry, the first film was a phenomenon. This time, the
things that go bump in the night are run-of-the-mill bangs, clatters,
slams and thuds that rarely elicit the jitters, jumps and screams that
audiences experienced in the first couple films.
Alex (Kathryn Newton) lives in a spacious house with her rather
disconnected parents and little brother. When Robbie (Brady Allen), a
strange little boy living next door, comes to stay with them for a few
days, malevolent weirdness ensues. Alex and her pal Ben (Matt Shively)
decide to investigate what's going on, setting up laptops to record
events in several rooms, utilizing motion-sensing equipment with
tracking dots and night vision. But some of the images that vaguely
emerge seem to lead nowhere, except perhaps to eye strain.
follow-up feels scattershot and pointless, riding on the coattails of
its predecessors. Potentially frightening elements are introduced, then
dropped or never fully played out. Once the scares start happening
slowly the terror quotient remains muted. A neighborhood witches'
coven plays into the proceedings. But it is more silly than fearsome.
The longevity of the Paranormal Activity
series is keyed to originality. How many times can the filmmakers keep
re-warming the same old story? How many times can bodies be violently
dragged from their beds until the viewer is inured to the terrifying
If the folks behind Paranormal are intent on churning them out, then the films need to be more imaginative, conjuring up new kinds of scares.
Paranormal Activity 4 is more like Paranormal Stasis.