In what is technically Paranormal Activity 5, longtime series producer Christopher Landon takes both the helm and the screenwriting credit this time out and the result is meh. I've been running hot and cold with this semi-groundbreaking found-footage franchise since day one – I loathed the first three and enjoyed the creepy witchery of the fourth – but the bottom line remains the same: If the first four films scared the bejesus out of you, this one will likely do the same.
It's notable that the producers have switched the template setting from bland suburbia to an apartment building in a mostly Latino neighborhood: Evidence that even they felt the whitebread locales were getting stale. Best friends Hector (Diaz), Jesse (Jacobs), and Marisol (Walsh) are the young and restless (and unfortunate) protagonists who, armed with that ever-trusty spook detector – the video camera and the off-brand laptop – summon the ire of the witch downstairs, who imbues Jesse with latent superpowers (!) and a preponderance of mysterious bite marks on his arms. This happens after she dies, natch.
Tentative clues discovered by the kids only add up to more questions, one of which has to be why no one ever shells out for a cheap, aftermarket Steadicam rig, already. The intentionally jittery camerawork on display here goes beyond the faux cinema verité it's aiming for and on into new realms of Dramamine-necessitating vertigo. Also, time travel – as in a return to the location of Paranormal Activity 3 – is rarely if ever a good idea. Still, director Landon manages some fairly unsettling trickery throughout, including what might be cinema's first possessed, levitating canine. Yeah, this movie's a dog, but you can't blame the producers for strip-mining the same old fool-proof formula to death … and beyond.