A found-footage franchise rapidly losing its frights.
DIRECTED BY HENRY JOOST AND ARIEL SCHULMAN
After manfully staving off franchise stagnation with the ‘80s-set Paranormal Activity 3, directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman fail to repeat the feat in Paranormal Activity 4. This latest installment brings the franchise back to present day, but ultimately offers only a tedious retread of the now over-familiar “found footage” formula.
Once again, a household is beset by bumps in the night that build steadily toward a demonic crescendo, but not before a member of the doomed clan takes the time to ensure that the mysterious goings-on are comprehensively documented. (This time mostly via MacBooks, apparently equipped with bottomless hard drives.)
The trouble is that, by now, those goings-on are wholly un-mysterious. Indeed, even though the series is still profitable, the shrewdly established semblance of plausibility that sustained the original Paranormal Activity (a low-fi aesthetic, improvised performances, subtle special effects, and a dedication to the victims’ families in place of credits) has also made it resistant to successful sequelization.
With Paranormal Activity 3, Joost, Schulman and screenwriter Christoper Landon responded to that challenge by fleshing out the franchise’s fiction, revealing the origins of the curse that continues to bedevil series stalwart Katie (Katie Featherson). Joost and Schulman also devised the franchise’s most inventively unnerving visual conceit: an oscillating fan converted into a swiveling surveillance device.
Here, however, the filmmakers neither expand meaningfully on the Paranormal Activity mythology, nor do they offer up a particularly clever means of capturing the action. Sequences ostensibly recorded via the infrared camera of an Xbox Kinect are admittedly striking. But, like this generally listless installment as a whole, they lack any kind of spine-tingling payoff.