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At least on a financial level, the “Paranormal” franchise is pretty brilliant.  Being shot on shoe-string budgets and still grossing over 100 million domestically each thus far, it’s no surprise studios would want to try out the formula a few more times.  And though I review movies based on whether they are “good” or not, not whether or not they were financial successes, I still must admit the first Paranormal Activity scared the bejeezus out of me.  I barely slept for several nights, and the sleep I did get was full of nightmares.  Not bad for a movie that’s essentially about nothing but bedsheets and doors moving around on their own.

However by this entry in the franchise the formula is getting pretty stale.  Paranormal Activity 4 (the temptation to call it “Para4mal Activity” is almost overpowering!) follows a new family who encounters Katie’s adopted “son” Robbie (Brady Allen).  For those who don’t remember, Katie (Katie Featherston) is the woman who got possessed by a demon in the first film (I also literally bumped into her while searching for a Halloween costume in Hollywood the other day…hi Katie!), and in the second film she takes possession of her sister’s son.  I have no idea what the third film is about since I didn’t see it, but it presumably wasn’t that important since I didn’t feel like I missed anything.

Anyway the new film focuses on the creepy Robbie befriending next-door neighbor Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp), much to the worry of older teenage sister Alex (Kathryn Newton) and her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively).  Alex and Wyatt’s parents decide to take Robbie into their home for a while when they hear Katie is sick in the hospital, and from there you can do the math…creepy stuff starts to happen, etc. etc. etc.

I’ve touched before on the fact that found horror footage films are more and more commonplace in my review for V/H/S, but when the first Paranormal Activity came out the genre was pretty fresh.  And while I won’t deny I watched a good chunk of Paranormal Activity 4 with my hand over my ears and partially covering my eyes like the wimpy baby that I am, the novelty had certainly worn off.  I was still scared, but I was kind of disappointed that I kept getting scared in the same way.

Another issue with Paranormal Activity 4 is that while it is continuously creepy, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense story-wise.  The first movie was about a girl getting possessed, and the second movie was a parallel story about the demon coming for a new child.  From what I’ve gathered, the third movie was a prequel explaining how the family came to be cursed in the first place.  Until the very very end, it’s never really clear what the demon’s motivations are, so it’s generally just a lot of weird spooky stuff happening for the sake of being weird and spooky.  Granted, fear of the unknown is a fear, but not when it gets in the way of the plot, particularly now that the basic “oh wow a door moved!” scares are feeling pretty rote.  While some inventive moments are made out a Kinect box spreading dots around the room to act as night-vision or laptops being set-up as security cameras, it isn’t enough to carry the film.

will admit that Paranormal Activity 4 has one hell of a finale that sent shivers through my entire body, so I concede that the scare formula certainly works on a visceral level.  But by the time the fourth sequel rolls around, in order for a franchise to survive it needs to break out of the mold it created, and on that level the movie failed to possess me.

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The Author

Daniel Johnson

Daniel Johnson

Daniel Johnson grew up in Santa Barbara, CA. Son of an archaeologist, he spent his childhood years developing a fondness of nature and the outdoors, which was rivaled only for his love of filmmaking and storytelling.
In 2008 he graduated from the University of Southern California's film program, and currently makes a living as an editor in addition to working on his own creative projects.
He has a weakness for redheads, seafood pasta, and dinosaurs.