Directors: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Starring: Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively
Halloween is fast approaching, and with it come several seasonal staples that are difficult to escape at this time of year. Costumes fill store windows, carved pumpkins line porches and the latest chapter in the now-annual Paranormal Activity series has arrived in cinemas.
Promotional material for the film boldly promises that ‘all the activity has led to this…’—a statement that’s impossible to refute. However, what ‘this’ unfortunately turns out to be is nothing more than tedium, disappointment and mild irritation.
The original Paranormal Activity was a limited, but undeniably tense little horror film that creatively used its meager budget to induce, if not many outright scares, then certainly a protracted feeling of dread and unease. It worked because it took a single concept and stuck to it, creating the air of plausibility crucial to the success of ‘found footage’ films, and honed with such finesse in The Blair Witch Project and [REC], the finest examples of the genre to date.
Sadly, all that remains of these humble beginnings are a tired, played-out premise, and returning demonic vessel Katie (Katie Featherston). The huge increase in budget hasn’t led to any developments in narrative or scare tactics either, and has instead served to actually diminish the series’ greatest asset. Gone is the immersive, lo-fi aesthetic of Paranormal Activity, and the faux-retro look of prequel Paranormal Activity 3. In their place is a film that may look sharper, clearer and better defined than its predecessors, but is ultimately cheapened by its glossier coat.
Even the well-established, underlying concept—a family places cameras around their house in order to capture some supernatural shenanigans on film—is needlessly complicated here, with the narrative contrivance providing yet another distraction from what little fright there is to be found.
All this, combined with some astoundingly brazen product placement, makes for an experience completely devoid of tension or terror, and one that is more likely to bore than it is to thrill.
With luck, lessons will be learned before next year’s inevitable Paranormal Activity 5 rolls around. In the meantime, fans of the genre would be better off renting [REC] again than dealing with this latest, abject Paranormal installment.