Paranormal Activity 4 probably won't drive you deep into slack-jawed boredom. This latest foray into found-footage, home-movie horror is far less annoying than the jumping-jack "edginess" of Sinister. Still, this particular style of storytelling has run out of juice. Audiences fondly remember their first Paranormal Activity, which scared them out of their bloody skins, and, like Pavlovian puppies, keep coming back for more of the same. But the franchise's frissons always depended on the long tease punctuated by sudden ambush. It's a formula that can turn you on only so long. Fourth time out it's pretty much like waiting ... and waiting ... and waiting until an old pal gets to the point—or the director applies the cattle prod. One is not riveted.
For those who have long since lost track of the thin story line meandering through these movies, a quick recap: As a child, Katie (Katie Featherston) attracted the interest of a malevolent stalker. Possessed, Katie offed her boyfriend and kidnapped her sister's kid Hunter. All four chapters are captured in mostly low-tech illuminations, courtesy of surveillance cameras, webcams, smartphones, etc. Our visual access to PA's venues of horror is limited, largely static, often grainy. Action, such as it is, comes bathed in irradiated black-and-white; color looks toxic, overexposed, as unnatural as Skype light. The franchise was most provocative when it hinted that humans were just ghosts in a camera lens, prisoners of spaces nauseatingly vulnerable to invasion by demonic techno-glitches.
Paranormal Activity 4 introduces a brand-new family, living in a big, open-plan house in Henderson, Nev. Young Alex (a very appealing Kathryn Newton) and her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively) stay in constant touch via webcam, while mom and dad (Alexondra Lee and Stephen Dunham) have reached that point of marital estrangement where they refuse to even look at each other. Preoccupied, they mostly don't "see" or hear their kids, let alone the warning signs that something evil their way has come. The evil arrives in the form of a creepy little "Omen" kid (Brady Allen) they take in while his mother, a neighbor, is hospitalized. This dead-eyed troll mesmerizes Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp), Alex's 6-year-old brother, and causes chandeliers to fall, a kitchen knife to whisk up and away (to slam down at a later date), and all those hollow-sounding thuds and crashes we're used to in haunted homes.
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