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Paranormal Activity 4

The scariest part of this movie is its lack of creativity

Four films into the Paranormal Activity series, a woman’s fight against demonic possession has twisted into a bizarre conspiracy story about witches, child possession and a demon that likes to mess up kitchens. <<© Paramount Pictures>>

Five years ago, Katie Featherston killed her boyfriend, sister and sister’s family, sparing only her infant nephew Hunter. Katie and Hunter’s whereabouts are still unknown.
    Since the murders were all caught on tape, you’d think there would be an active investigation, at least a manhunt and a lot of news coverage aimed at finding the woman who brutally murdered three people and absconded with an innocent child.
    But when a woman and her odd son Robbie (Brady Allen: The Middle) move into a quiet suburban neighborhood, no one says Hey, isn’t that the crazed murderess the police have been hunting for?
    She moves in, and her creepy kid starts hanging around a new family. Soon enough, Robbie finagles his way into the neighbor’s house, befriending six-year-old Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp: The Time Being) and unnerving 16-year-old Alex (Kathryn Newton: Bad Teacher). Another new addition to the household is Robbie’s imaginary friend, Toby, who moves household items, makes strange noises and recruits young Wyatt to his undead cause.
    When Alex notices strange happenings, she and her tech-savvy boyfriend program every computer in the household — including an X-box Kinnect — to record Robbie and his friend Toby’s playtime.
    Will Toby take possession of another innocent soul? Can Alex figure out who Katie is, considering she is just one Google search away from uncovering the whole story? Who has time to review literally hours of laptop footage to find five minutes of supernatural stuff?
    The original Paranormal Activity was innovative because of its commitment to telling a scary tale simply. Four films later, the story is so ludicrous that it has become darkly funny. A woman’s fight against demonic possession has twisted into a bizarre conspiracy story about witches, child possession and a demon that likes to mess up kitchens.
    As an antagonist, Toby is a bit of a conundrum. At moments, he quietly chats with the children. Sometimes, he’s content to move furniture or open doors. On the odd occasion, he will grab a hapless victim to smash dead like a rag doll. It seems strange that this powerful being would waste so much time with parlor tricks when he could easily kill the family and take the boy. Maybe he likes to set challenges for himself. Maybe he’s not a terribly bright evil entity. Most likely, the filmmakers are stalling because the movie needs to be more than five minutes long.
    Worse, all of the scares have been seen before. If you’ve seen one Paranormal Activity, you know that objects will move on their own, noises will boom through the halls and, eventually, someone will get tossed/dragged/crushed by Toby. Directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost (Paranormal Activity 3) add nothing different to the formula.
    Their worst choice is using the laptops as their primary source of footage. Lacking dynamic shots, the directors cheat, making the characters get close enough to camera to obscure the scene before revealing a scary thing in the background.
    Paranormal Activity 4 is dull, unimaginative proof that this franchise will continue until the audience demands smarter — or scarier — horror films.

Dull Horror • R • 88 mins.