The enduring horror franchise about haunted houses in suburban America returns with "Paranormal Activity 4," which means more creaking doors and bumps in the night. The shtick has been wearing thin, but this time the filmmakers add something new: a pretty, blonde, teenage heroine.
About time! To its credit, "Paranormal Activity 4" almost never ogles young Alex, played by the appealing newcomer Kathryn Newton, but she and her almost-boyfriend Ben (a likeable Matt Shively), bring a youthful energy to this ossifying series. They're an endearing pair, flirting and sharing confidences via Skype. When Alex gets up from her bed to inspect the latest thud downstairs, a lovelorn Ben cries out from her laptop screen: "Wait, take me with you!"
In a story that will be familiar to fans of the previous films -- and to anyone who's seen any horror movie, ever -- a little boy, Robbie (Brady Allen), comes to stay with Alex's family and triggers a series of strange events. Robbie looks a bit like Danny from "The Shining" and even rides his tricycle around the house; he also forms an intense bond with Alex's little brother (Aiden Lovekamp). When Alex grows suspicious, Ben reassuringly sets up computer cameras everywhere, providing us with the found-footage experience these movies are known for.
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. (Katie Featherston also returns, providing a slim thread of continuity with the previous films.) The scares are hit-and-miss, but at least Alex and Ben are fun to hang out with.
PLOT A normal suburban family takes in a very strange little boy. RATING R (violence, language)
CAST Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE The motto of this enduring franchise is simple: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Set your bar low and you might have fun.