Posted on Friday, October 30th, 2015 by Jacob Hall
This will not be a defense of the Paranormal Activity series.
You either like these movies or you don’t. You either appreciate their charms or you find them dreadfully boring. You either dig their slow-burning tension or you hate their reliance on jump scares. You either respect their commitment to an increasingly overblown and confusing mythology or you tuned out two movies ago. I have no intention of convincing you that these movies are worth your time if you have already decided that they are not for you. But if you like them… Hi! Welcome to the club.
With the sixth and supposedly final film in the series, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, in theaters now, I am going to rank all six of these movies. Because even though this series has burned me and angered me and driven me up a wall built out of my own frustrations, I genuinely like two thirds of these films. But which two thirds? Well, feel free to read on, if you dare.
A special note: This list is 100% accurate and not up for debate. Sorry.
6. Paranormal Activity 4
For whatever reason, the odd-numbered Paranormal Activity films tend to represent the best in the franchise, almost as if they’re reacting to failures of their predecessor and adjusting course. No even-numbered film in the series demands a course correction quite like Paranormal Activity 4, which represents the absolute nadir of the series. It embodies every complaint everyone has ever had about the rest of the Paranormal Activity movies and amplifies them. This thing is slow and obnoxious and stilted and boring and painfully anti-climactic.
Paranormal Activity 4 feels desperate. It feels desperate in how it shifts its focus to trying-too-hard-to-be-hip teenage leads who never once deserve our investment. It feels desperate in how it utilizes the Kinect of all things to provide a new angle from which to view the action. There is a dearth of ideas on display here, and for a series that is dependent entirely on setting up and paying off gags that get the audience screaming at the screen, that’s death. In a series defined by its sudden, deliberately inconclusive endings, Paranormal Activity 4 is the only film that ends with a genuine cop-out. It’s not as insulting as The Devil Inside (the found footage horror movie that had the audacity to end with a goddamn YouTube link), but it’s close.
And unlike some of the other lesser entries, part four feels like its treading water, adding little to the mythology. What is here doesn’t pay off until part six and even then that feels more like damage control than an actual plan. Every horror franchise reaches a point where it starts to coast. It happened to Friday the 13th with part seven, A Nightmare on Elm Street with part five, and Saw with part four. Thankfully, like those series, Paranormal Activity did find just enough juice to stage a comeback.
5. Paranormal Activity 2
The second entry in the series lacks the sense of intimate terror that made the first one such a memorably unnerving experience, but as a collection of decent scares, it’s fine. It’s okay. It gets the job done. It’s barely a movie, but when viewed with a large, hyped-up crowd, it’s more than enough to get your blood pumping.
The big problem is that it takes forever to find its gear, and without the raw energy of an audience on opening weekend to help it along, the movie has to limp to get to the good stuff. All of the movies in the Paranormal Activity are dependent on the right mixture of people in the theater (or the right cocktail of friend in the living room) to be fully effective, but this one lives and dies by the patience and enthusiasm everyone brings to it. You have to constantly forgive the movie, to accept that it’s going to take its sweet time while never being as interesting as the first movie, and that’s a lot to ask. It’s probably too much to ask of anyone who doesn’t want to go out of their way to embrace these things.
But the stuff that is good tends to be really good. This is the film that decided to take the series in a serialized, time-jumping, soap-opera-complex direction and the results are intriguing. Knowing that the bulk of the film takes place before the events of part one, and knowing the events of this film lead to the terror thrust upon our original heroes, gives this otherwise limp movie an edge. Right now, Paranormal Activity 2 is more noteworthy for its contributions to the series mythology than it is for doing anything especially interesting in its filmmaking. It leans on what was established to part one to diminishing returns.
Plus, any movie talks manages to milk a pool cleaner for scares deserves at least some respect.