"Paranormal Activity 4" may be frightful for all the wrong reasons, if America's critics are to be believed.
The latest in the hit horror franchise opens Friday, but the sequel didn't have enough "things that go bump in the night" to warrant glowing reviews. It scored an anemic 29 percent "rotten" rating on the critics' aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes.
Although the latest found footage scare-fest introduces a new cast of characters, USA Today's Claudia Puig felt it was the "same old, same old" and accused the filmmakers of returning to the trough one too many times.
"This follow-up feels scattershot and pointless, riding on the coattails of its predecessors," Puig writes. "Potentially frightening elements are introduced, then dropped or never fully played out. Once the scares start happening — slowly — the terror quotient remains muted."
Also left without goose bumps was Entertainment Weekly's Adam Markovitz, who complained that the film was all set-up and no scares.
"Writer-directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost (Catfish, PA3) have their heads too far in the franchise's mythology, which concerns a woman named Katie (Paranormal Activity's Katie Featherstone) who seems to be linked to a demonic spirit," Markovitz writes. "PA4 develops the story ever so slightly (not enough to satisfy fans) and delivers a few good scares (not enough to satisfy newbies); mostly, it plays like a overlong prologue for the already-in-the-works PA5."
But Markovitz's gripes come off like a rave when stacked up alongside Joe Neumaier's out-and-out pan in the New York Daily News. Handing the film a flimsy one star out of five, Neumaier all but warned ticketbuyers to bring a pillow.
"There are a few jolts, yet most are from someone jumping into the frame (which quickly grow tiresome). And there’s, of course, a promise of more activity to come," Neumaier writes. "But unless moviegoers think it’s worth watching another whole cast of characters sleep while their furniture moves around them, only diehard fans will stay awake for that next entry."
Newsday's Rafer Guzman couldn't be accused of liking the film exactly, but he did praise "Paranormal Activity"s' teen stars, Matt Shively and Kathryn Newton, and thought a few of the big shocks registered.
"Returning directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman get some good scares using the motion-detecting beams of an Xbox Kinect, but the script (by Christopher Landon and Chad Feehan) is the usual stuff: the imaginary friend, the weird symbol, the possible cult next door," Guzman writes.
One of the few who broke with the critical drubbing was Mark Olsen of the Los Angeles Times, who particularly enjoyed the film's use of computer webcams to capture the horror unfolding on screen. Unlike his fellow reviewers, he actually seems enthused about another installment in the series.
"'Paranormal Activity 4' is in many ways one big setup, building to a single, inevitable what's-behind-you jump scare and then a rollicking finale — one that implies a deeper mythology, opening the door (but of course) for another sequel," Olsen writes.
Guess he'll be buying a ticket without the other critics.