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As long as they keep making them, I’ll keep seeing them. With that being said, I hope they stop making them pretty soon. Much like the first three installments in the popular horror series, Paranormal Activity 4 has some scares, some laughs, and the lingering sense that things are not going to work out very well for the occupants of the haunted house. Unlike the first three films, however, this one feels mostly unnecessary.

When Paranormal Activity was released to theaters in 2009, audiences absolutely loved it. The marketing campaign helped a great deal—with websites daring you to “sign your name here if you want your city to play the scariest movie of all time, before it’s too late” and similar tactics. It also had the “Is this real?” effect going for it, similar to the oft-compared The Blair Witch Project. Then, in 2010, when Paranormal Activity 2 was released, nobody thought it would work. But it did! So, unlike Blair Witch, it turned out that sequels could actually apply to this formula—yes, I realize that Blair Witchhad a sequel, but we don’t really need to discuss that, unless you’re one of the three people who saw Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 and actually liked it. Then, in 2011, Paranormal Activity 3 came out and surpassed the originality in the second film, and equaled the quality of the first. How can the filmmakers possibly top themselves this time?

It turns out they cannot. This film is significantly less scary, less tension building, less funny, and less inventive than the first three films in the series. It’s still better than the majority of the horror films coming out these days, which unfortunately isn’t saying much, but it seems like the flavor is finally running out of Paranormal Activity. The movie takes place in November 2011, five years after the events of the first two films. To really discuss the fourth film, there are some key points of the first two films that need to be known. Spoiler Alert! If you have not seen the first two films, read further at your own risk.

The first film is about Katie and Micah, who are haunted by a spirit. Katie ends up getting possessed and killing Micah. In the second film, Katie’s sister Kristi and her family are the focus, and takes place at almost the exact same time as the first film. Kristi and her husband have a baby boy in the second film, and at the end of the movie, newly possessed Katie kidnaps the baby and their whereabouts remain unknown. Cut to 5 years later, which is where the newest film picks up. The film focuses on a family—a husband and wife who are having marital problems, a teen daughter who has a boyfriend who is into technology, a creepy boy moves in next door, that sort of thing. It is hard to go too much into the plot of the fourth film without giving some fun twists and turns away, but it is not difficult to guess how things end up.

There are, however, some good moments throughout the movie that do make the film worth seeing. This film delves a little deeper into the mythology of the series, even more so than the third film. There are some scary scenes, but they feel like leftovers of the first three films…almost like scenes that got lost on the cutting room floor. Even the characters feel like worn out versions of characters that worked so well in previous installments. For example, every film thus far has had a funny, relatable, and charming male lead. Micah provided much of the comedic relief of the first film, Daniel (the father in the second film, played by Brian Boland) was also terrific, and Dennis (the father in the third film, played by relative unknown Chris Smith) did probably the best job of any of them in the series. Now, in the fourth film, Stephen Dunham plays likeable father Doug, following the template of the first three films. The only difference is he does not have as much screen time as the men in the previous films, and he is not quite as endearing, either.

There are numerous examples of things that worked well in the past, and are now starting to feel tired, but that doesn’t really matter. The fact is that these movies never cost more than $5 million to produce, and they routinely bring in upwards of $200 million. Not a bad return on investment. They have already announced Paranormal Activity 5 to be released next October, and it would be a shock if the series ends there. So, I will say it again. As long as they keep making them, I will keep seeing them. And judging by the nearly $70 million that the fourth film has already made, I am not alone.


DannerMovie Review by Mike Danner