Paranormal Activity 4 (R)
The rampant dullness of Paranormal Activity 4 is shocking, I will grant it this much. But ironically, for all that, as with the earlier films, it's mostly about watching people sleep. PA4 might best be used as a soothing nightlight, it's that monotonous.
Almost plotless, pretty pointless, and entirely unscary, PA4 may be one of the most unnecessary sequels ever. The basic found-footage conceit of accidentally capturing a malevolent poltergeist on home video equipment was more than played out by the just tolerably not unnovel PA1, and it decayed into forgettable instant irrelevance with its first sequel. Now, with the fourth film in the most redundant franchise ever, it's as if the filmmakers themselves have given up, shrugged a Whatever The Fuck, and simply tossed some random not-even-found-footage-anymore at us in the hopes that we won't realize it's not scary.
It's like this: Screenwriters Christopher Landon and Chad Feehan, who had nothing to do with the previous films, offer no pretense that, even under its own loose rules, the ongoing story of poor Katie (Katie Featherston), the original PA hauntee, makes any sense whatsoever. At the end of PA2, set in 2006, we saw Katie kill her sister and brother-in-law and kidnap their infant son, her nephew Hunter; now, in 2011, it appears that Katie and current gradeschooler Hunter have moved in across the street from teen Alice (Kathryn Newton) in Nevada, because fugitives from double murders can easily rent upscale suburban homes. But whatever. It's the supernatural stuff that makes no sense. For Alice's home is now being beset by weird noises and strange dangerous stuff happening, because ...
Well, I won't spoil, even though the big surprise is something that, in an even marginally smarter film, would have been a given from the outset, because that's where the even marginally interesting story might be. Avoiding it raises howlers of questions that would demand answering, if I could be bothered to care. And also because it wouldn't matter if any of the haunting stuff was in the teensiest bit unnerving. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, returning from PA3, have "crafted" a movie that could be called the Where's Waldo of spooky shit, insisting that we search the background for something, anything to be happening: Is a ghost gonna jump outta there? Is a shadow gonna pass over here? Because there is little of concern happening in the foreground. Mostly, it's Alice Skyping with her not-quite-boyfriend, Alex (Matt Shively), who sets up all the many laptops in Alice's absurdly rambling McMansion to record all the odd knocks and doors slamming. Mostly, there is no Waldo to be found. Sometimes, Joost and Schulman cheat unforgivably, as by inserting a jump cut where one would not be found in, you know, found footage just so there will be something, anything startling and jarring onscreen.
This isn't merely lazy storytelling: It's nonexistent storytelling. And PA4 is doubling down on its own lack of internal logic by offering itself up in IMAX. Because if there's one thing that says "Real stuff that happened to real people," it's teens Skyping in IMAX. Because that happens.