Paranormal Activity 4 is bland and limited, often feeling more like an exercise in ‘horror marketing how-to’ than a narrative film. As a franchise sold on a fun and jumpy night out it succeeds to a large and broad set but for a film which owes masses to a genre it borrows so heavily from it frustratingly offers next to nothing back by way of progression or interest.
The jumbled premise is set five years after the second film after the disappearance of siblings Katie and Hunter; when a woman and a mysterious child move into a suburban neighbourhood the family next door begin to witness strange and gradually frightening events. I am not entirely sure if only seeing the first Paranormal Activity much affected the frankly flat experience I had watching the fourth entry in what is the most lucrative horror franchise this side of Saw. But my lack of investment in the through franchise arcs were overwhelmed by my lack of reaction to the stand alone events and the one-dimensional format.
The film’s non-committal tone assures that explanations are minimal and characters are dispensable; serving only to drive brief events, essentially being lower down on the priority list than Apple products. The acting is competent, thankfully the teen and child protagonists only annoy as much as they are supposed to being young and all, but overall the performances hang in limbo like most aspects of the film; neither here or there in making an impression but merely functional. As for flare the only seeming attempts are so coupled with product placement that any atmosphere is quickly marred by the consistent assembly line feel. Similarly shoving an eerie child into scenes that simply do not hold any of the skill or intensity of the greats such as ‘The Shining’ or ‘The Omen’ is painfully generic in this decade of copy-and-paste horror, saying that if you are that shaken by creepy kids who stare a lot and mumble to unseen companions then you’ll be likely to be pleased. The churned-out feel is further enforced by the clear rush job most noticeable in the unsure editing. Certain scenes feel half finished, if this is a push for ambiguity it does not work and adds to the shrug-inducing, confused by itself results.
It’s a safe bet that the crew behind Paranormal Activity, who initially took several cues from (like every found footage film since) The Blair Witch Project in regards to it’s rigid sticking to the first instalment’s formula. Less we forget (and many have) Blair Witch had a doomed sequel that strayed from its path in attempting something not found footage and gratingly meta that subsequently failed, killing off any potential for a franchise. This lot seem to have regarded Blair Witch as a practice run rather than a blue-print for their annual approach.
Paranormal Activity 4 is a dull and looping 90 minutes, if you’re a fan of the series or susceptible to scares that are essentially blurred shadows in backgrounds and cranking sound effects to 11 after some meandering quiet time (otherwise known as lazy scares) then you’ll likely get some fleeting satisfaction but otherwise a wholly forgettable and fidget in one’s seat experience that near crushes itself with it’s own repetitive formula and vagueness. If Paranormal Activity fan’s patience weren’t already waning by this entry then I would imagine that come the fifth they will be decidedly looking elsewhere for their jump scares.