I'm trying to think of the last feature-length film where as little of consequence happens as in “Paranormal Activity 4.” (Although, if a quick scan of my “Paranormal Activity 2” review is any indication, probably that film.)
A single mother and her young son recently moved in across the street and it's not long until Robbie (Brady Allen) befriends the family's youngest, Wyatt. However, as soon as Robbie begins spending extended amounts of time around the house, Wyatt's teenaged sister, Alex (Kathryn Newton) and her boyfriend, Ben (Matt Shively) begin noticing…you guessed it, paranormal activity. This includes not only strange noises with no apparent origin, but also Robbie acting like a weirdo, including drawing symbols on Wyatt in preparation for … something.
All of this unsettling activity, however, accounts for so little of the actual film and comes and goes so quickly that very little of it actually registers. Look, I get it. One of the most effective ways of scaring an audience is to make them feel comfortable, then blast them with an unexpected bit of terror. This can be effectively achieved by doing “fake out” scares, making the actual scare even more scream-inducing.
That said, I guess no one told returning co-directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost that you shouldn't wait nearly a third into your film before your first genuine attempt at a scare is made. We might as well be watching paint dry given how little actually goes on.
This might have been assuaged if we any of these characters were interesting or developed in any significant way or if any of them did anything that was remotely engaging. But they aren't and they don't. So what we're left with is less than a handful of scares happening to a family we neither know nor care about, all spread across a near-interminable length of time. Had this simply been a short film, it might have been effective on some level, given how thin the proceedings are I can't imagine how anyone might be engaged on any level.
There are a couple of late-film “twists” but neither are terribly surprising while of them barely even makes sense given what happened in previous films.
Perhaps even more infuriating is that we're simply left with yet another cliffhanger ending, one which barely makes sense even within the series' already half-baked “mythology.” Ninety minutes of banality and repetitive scenery with boring characters just to watch the overarching “story” barely make any forward movement? Eat my shorts, Joost and Schulman.
If nothing else, it proves that those two have nothing but contempt for their audience and take them all for suckers. This is reinforced by the fact that, apparently, their “documentary” “Catfish” (which I almost placed on my Top 10 movies of 2010 list) was entirely a fabrication. They want your money, and little else.
It's frustrating to remember that “Paranormal Activity” was at one point one of the more promising horror franchises. But it's become increasingly clear that the insistence on keeping the series as “found footage” has become a huge roadblock to telling any sort of an interesting or engaging story.
But whatever, using no-name actors and shooting with iPhones and laptop webcams keeps the cost down and the profits high, so who cares if it makes no sense that half the movie is framed via a teenage girl toting a laptop everywhere she goes or if no one in their right mind would actually be filming certain scenes, even with their phone's camera.
There is no reason for anyone to spend any amount of time and/or money watching this film. Read the Wikipedia entry or wait for the ending to pop up on YouTube so you can be sufficiently primed when the next entry is cynically unleashed in theaters next Halloween season. Not even someone who considers themselves a fan of the series will get anything out of this 90-minute insult.