It’s about time the Paranormal Activity franchise gave its demon a proper name. As terrifying demonic names in horror movies go, ‘Toby’ falls a long way short of Pazuzu, Azazel or Bagul.
Toby sounds more like the name of your neighbour’s dog than the name of something that wants to eat your soul.
The general mythology of the series needs a bit of tightening up, too, because despite the marketing campaign’s promises, none of the questions you already have about the story so far are answered. Instead, it’s just a replay of the previous films with a new set of characters drafted in to serve as demon-fodder.
So, in 2011, a nice middle-class family offers to look after the small boy from across the road after his mother falls ill. Despite the kid’s creepy demeanour and penchant for drawing occult symbols on the wall, he becomes fast friends with the family’s adopted son. While the parents are too busy fighting to notice, their teenage daughter and her boyfriend realise there’s something supernatural going on, and set up an elaborate network of laptops and webcams all over the house to prove it.
Cue jump scares. Lots and lots of jump scares.
There are some nice touches here – the use of the Xbox Kinect is particularly smart – but the demon’s antics are starting to feel a bit stale by now. Whenever that ominous rumbling noise starts up, you know one of two things is about to happen: either something will fall from the ceiling or someone will get dragged across the room by their feet. It seems like Toby has exhausted every option in his bag of tricks.
Though the film does bring back Katie and Hunter from the earlier films, it’s not clear what happened to them in the intervening years, or how they got to be where they are now.
The lack of originality and explanations could have been forgiven if this film was genuinely scary, but it isn’t. It’s too funny; for every jump scare, there’s a joke. Like so many other horror franchises before it, it seems like Paranormal Activity has lapsed into self-parody.