The Paranormal Activity films have always been like one of the ghost train rides at The Royal Show. You pay your money. You get your few minutes of cheap thrills. And you talk about all the frights and fun with your friends later.
I've been an unlikely fan of the three films so far, with each being a prequel of the one before that drip-fed an increasingly intriguing tale of two sisters possessed by a demon who is after their first born male child.
Well, the ride is over, fans, for this fourth installment of the popular modern horror series run right off the ghost train rails and into more conventional and less scary territory. Boo! You may want your money back.
Firstly, this is the first of the four that's not a prequel, and that's a shame. The reverse chronology was one of the series' best features, with important historical revelations building an increasingly rich backstory. Part four is, in fact, a sequel of part two (3-2-1-4 is the chronological order), and picks up after Katie (Katie Featherston) killed her sister Kristi and left with Kristi's son Hunter.
Second, rather than the haunted house ghost story, part four is more of the kind of 'creepy kid' horror films we've seen in The Omen, The Sixth Sense or any Macaulay Culkin movie. We've seen that before, and it's not deployed in any new or creative ways here.
Third, and most importantly, not only is it not as scary as the other three, the scares are much the same. There's sudden loud noises in the house, bodies flung like rag dolls and the climactic jolt-fright. Been there, seen that. A blatant reference to The Shining is perhaps the most telling give-away that series creator Oren Peli and directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman have come to the end of this ghost train's line.
Part four picks up in a new town with Katie and Hunter, who she’s re-named Robbie (Brady Allen). When Katie is mysteriously taken to hospital, Robbie moves in next door with blonde sweetheart Alex (Kathryn Newton) and her little brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp). Their parents are too busy to take Alex seriously when she complains about the noises that weird-o Robbie has brought with him, or that he's "getting out" at night.
You know how the rest goes. Joost and Schulman build the tension, deliver quick pay-off, and repeat. But the pay-offs are far less satisfying this time. It's much more noticeable that the filmmakers are trying to keep the franchise fresh and young, both in its younger cast and its use of modern gadgets to capture the action. There's no old school security cameras or CCTV here. This time it's iPhones and a laptop camera, which often go mobile.
Yet neither can disguise the fact that the novelty — and the narrative — has worn thin. Peli, Joost and Schulman are either out of good ideas or perhaps taking orders from studio executives who want to keep their cash cow on the rails.
Just remember; ride at your own risk. And no refunds.
Paranormal Activity 4 is now screening.