As far as overall quality and critical acclaim go, a sequel rarely equals — and even more infrequently exceeds — the original: The Academy Award-winning “Rocky” was T.K.O.’ed by the third round, viewers were hesitant to take second and third bites out of “Jaws” and the most recent triplet of “Star Wars” episodes didn’t have the same amount of force as the original trifecta. So if Stallone, Spielberg and Lucas can occasionally miss the mark, it doesn’t take a psychic to foresee the inevitable demise of the “Paranormal Activity” series.

Paranormal Activity 4

At Quality 16 and Rave
Paramount


In the fourth link of this chump chain, the first brief sequence depicts a paranormally empowered woman killing her sister, abducting her nephew and then mysteriously disappearing. Five years later, when a suburban family of four takes in the odd boy across the street, Robbie (newcomer Bradley Allen), while his mother (Katie Featherston, “Paranormal Activity 3”) is in the hospital, weird things start to happen.

Worried about her little brother spending so much time with the freaky tyke, Alex (Kathryn Newton, “Bad Teacher”) and her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively, TV’s “True Jackson, VP”) are determined to reveal the truth about Robbie.

The characters, from screenwriters Christopher Landon (“Paranormal Activity 3”) and Chad Feehan (“Beneath the Dark”), are as flat as a pancake — underdeveloped and sorely lacking redeeming qualities. The one exception is Ben, whose witty remarks, relentless charm and genuinely lovable personality are the saving grace. Without his character, it’s basically like watching a robotic, brainless family straight out of “The Sims” computer game.

The “cinematography” — if you can even call it that — by Doug Emmett (“The Giant Mechanical Man”) is even more contrived and nauseating than earlier “Activity” installments. It worked in the first movie, prolonging the precedent set by the surprisingly successful “The Blair Witch Project,” but now the viewing experience is like the minute of disorientation after a roller coaster ride, except 87 times longer.

Perhaps the most evident disappointment derives from the poor directing (Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, “Paranormal Activity 3”) and ineffective editing (Gregory Plotkin, “Paranormal Activity 3”). Until the last five minutes, there is an unforgivable lack of substantial suspense and fear-inducing moments. A cat abruptly jumping from off camera and a chair magically pushing itself out from under the table doesn’t exactly elicit the shrill screams and face-clenching moments that justify a ticket purchase.

This set of highly homogenous horror stories is what an economist would deem a series with diminishing marginal returns. The first film is somewhat novel, definitely worth watching, and was well enough received to merit the green light for a sequel. And while “Paranormal Activity 2” is entertaining, it doesn’t compete with the quality of the original. As for the third flick in the series, it’s the equivalent of beating a dead horse. “Paranormal Activity 4” won’t exactly be running the Kentucky Derby anytime soon.

And, with a slew of scary movies coming out in the weeks leading up to Halloween, go pick something else — anything else — to get your fill of frights and delights. Perhaps some truly paranormal ghost can be a Good Samaritan and let the viewing world know if there’s a plan in the works for a fifth “Paranormal Activity” edition, so the vapid, video-camera creation can be stopped before it happens.

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