Perilously pointless, with scant sense of direction or purpose, "Paranormal Activity 4" might be the worst movie of the year. It's definitely the worst "Paranormal" yet, and aside from hand-stuffing 200 nickels up your nostrils it's the dumbest waste of ten bucks possible.
There should be a consumer protection commission whereto one may dial a toll-free number and hold the receiver up to the theater when the final credits roll. The chorus of "What?"s at the end would automatically initiate an official inquiry, followed by massive fines. The line of questioning would look like this: Why is the story so flimsy and incoherent? Why do your characters act like twits? Why didn't you bother to come up with a credible ending? Most importantly, why wasn't any of it scary?
Other installments in this "Paranormal" series at least would give you a fright. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman managed a couple of proper scares in the previous "Paranormal" installment. This one, though? Gyaaaagh. To give you an idea, the respective IMDB user scores (on a 10-point scale) for the four "Paranormal" flicks look like this: 6.4, 5.8, 6.0, 4.7. In other words this latest inert lump, smacking of a low-imagination rush job, is a substantial dropoff even from a well-carved rut of mediocrity.
The signature "Paranormal" elements are all here, though — a family in a house in California videotaping themselves and one another during bouts of poltergeisty, demonic, bump-in-the-night stuff. It's B-movie found-footage fun, when done well. But this ain't. There's a mom and a dad and a young son and a teen-aged daughter and her boyfriend. The parents are morons. They pay no attention when the daughter, Alex (the endearing Kathryn Newton), points out that weird things have been happening since they invited the creepy brat from across the street, Robbie (Brady Allen), to stay for a while. Robbie has some imaginary friend who seems to show up on the Xbox Kinect sensors and probably ought to be Ghostbusted. Also, Robbie's mom is the Katie character from some of the other "Paranormal" movies, not that you'd much notice.
At some level the filmmakers must have a sense of where they want this cash cow to wander, and how the various strands from various movies will connect, but this film appears to know little of where it's going and to care nothing of how it gets there. We know bad things are in store for our surnameless family, but (spoiler alert) the manner in which these bad things befall them is boring and nonsensical. It almost plays as an 88-minute practical joke, or a credible spoof of a "Paranormal Activity" movie.
It didn't have to be this way. The creep-child, Robbie, is a truly unnerving little toad. Children are fantastic assets in horror movies, not least because life's most terrifying moments involve children who are sick, arrested or conceived. By the end, though, we don't really know why he's such a wretched nightmare tot. Maybe if you were a real fanatic of these "Paranormal Activity" films and their supposed mythology then the subtle intricacies that right now appear as lazy oversights might reveal a hidden masterpiece. For the other 99 percent of us, this movie carries all the beguiling charm of a fungal hangnail. It cost $5 million to make. It made more than $50 million worldwide in its first weekend. Another sequel has been announced. Please, do not encourage these people any longer.