It's surprising that Paranormal Activity 4 has turned out to be as scary as it is, writes Kurt Loder. Five years into this phenomenally profitable franchise, you might expect the picture to be an exhausted joke, wobbling around in Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy territory. The simple formal elements of the series—the mostly static "found footage," the numbered night scenes, the timecode counting down at the bottom of the screen—remain the same; and while the three previous films have grossed more than $500-million worldwide (on a combined budgetary outlay of slightly more than $8-million), the dedication to a low-budget aesthetic—no stars, no music, no flashy effects—likewise remains unchanged.
What has changed—or is changing—is the story. Given the huge profit margin involved, it might have been tempting to just keep remaking the exact same movie over and over again, with slight shock variations. But directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman and cowriter Christopher Landon, all returning from the last film, have deepened the chill factor somewhat by expanding the series' mythology, introducing an agreeably silly ancient-Hittite motif and sketching in the outline of an overarching pattern of evil. All very creepy, Loder writes, and still very effective.