Well, it's that time of year again. Now that the Saw series has come to an end, Hollywood needed to exploit another horror film that had noble and small beginnings before the Hollywood machine got ahold of it. Seems like that new series is Paranormal Activity where a new one is cranked out every October regardless of how good the script is, how good the acting is and whether or not it's effective; as long as it makes money, it's made.
Just like with the Saw films, the first two were really well done and Paranormal Activity is no exception. The first one was creative and innovative and the second one, I thought, was even better. Then the third one was still scary but confusing and seemed reaching. This fourth installment is absolutely the worst in the series, but it's a series that still has an interesting continual story and appealing "less-is-more" frights.
This one takes place with a new family that lives in Nevada. This seems unrelated to the haunted sisters we've come to love but as you find out early on, it's not. As interwoven as they tried to make this new family, it comes across slightly reaching and confusing once again with how it all ties together. That being said, the new cast of characters are some of the better actors and most fun to watch.
Paranormal Activity has almost prided itself on casting unknowns so much so you'll probably never see any of them again. (For Christ's sake, the guy that played Micah in the first one is in a Honda commercial now.) But Paranormal Activity 4 features a teenage girl and her boyfriend filming the whole movie through Skype and the webcams on their MacBooks. They're played by Kathryn Newton (Bad Teacher) and newcomer Matt Shively. They're both really fun to watch and have playful chemstry that makes the movie the funniest in the series, but funny is not why someone comes to a Paranormal Activity movie.
Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman did the last one and before that they did the documentary Catfish, which was pretty scary in a very different way. These guys aren't bad filmmakers but seem as if they've been a bad omen on the series since they've been getting worse since taking over. I give them credit for making stars out of weird objects like an oslicating fan in the third one and an Xbox Kinect in this. But the film series has become predictable to the point that it feels like a paint-by-number horror movie. Every scare you see coming a mile away and there's almost nothing shocking or frightening at all. Keep in mind, I did say "almost" because Katie Featherstone makes her return and in a very creepy way.
I'm still an ardent fan and defender of the low-budget creepfests but this is the first that tests that. There are positives that come out of the fourth installment but they don't even come close to countering the negatives. If the series is to continue, and I kind of hope it doesn't, it needs some major retooling and a more creative approach. If not, then Paranormal Activity will become just another horror franchise that will parody itself into obscurity and bargin bins. Paranormal Activity 4 (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C-