It is incredibly difficult to tell, if you have seen any of the other Paranormal films, to be sure if the lack of scariness is innate or if it is just because the viewer has already seen pretty much all of this stuff before. In fact, it is pretty damned amazing that this “franchise” (horrible term, makes a series of films sound like sandwiches from Arby’s) was kept relatively fresh through three movies.
The first two worked because they took the standard horror movie time frame, where you wait for something to jump and scare you, and stretched it out. Right where you thought there SHOULD be something scary there wasn’t so you relaxed and THEN there was something scary. They also left you scanning the entire screen for little weird things happening in the background. They were tense. They also sort of made the filming of it all, the “found footage” aspect at least marginally believable.
The third film, which takes place back in the days of VHS, offered a slightly different spin with an old camera mounted on a rotating fan. As it pans back and forth it really made you nervous. The introduction of child stealing witches in the third film was a whiff of desperation. It was trying to “explain” things maybe? But there was no real reason to do that. These films are all about the jumps and starts you make when something flits by or there is a loud sound. The more you explain the more dull it all gets.
The new film doesn’t get as much into the whole “coven” angle (except maybe at the ridiculous ending). But no one in the theater was surprised or jumping when things that were supposed to be scary happened. There is even a brief, “the cat jumps up” thing which is very Amityville Horror (the 1970s one). This film mostly uses computers and the Kinect as how the action is filmed. But what idiot runs around with their computer in their hand all the time? It is true that there are points where you can assume a hand held camera of some sort is being used but none of it really passes muster. The previous films kept the action more confined--which made it scarier somehow.
It would be interesting to have two theaters full of viewers—one who had seen all the previous films and another who hadn’t –to see if there was any difference in audience reaction. Remember the ads for the first film showing audience members FREAKING OUT while watching the film? If you were that frightened of any of these films you are probably 7 years old. But they were certainly creepy. They took the creaking you hear in the night and gave you reason to be afraid of it. They took those creeped out moments we all feel and put them on film to creep us out even more.
Who knows? Maybe it is all just a matter of familiarity breeding contempt. And Paranormal Activity 4 is so familiar. It is like an old worn out pair of socks. It is done. It is over. And it is to be hoped it is true that this is the end of it. But since the film has made over 40 million at this point? That is doubtful. Hollywood never, ever gives up on a series that is still making money.