I was on board with the first couple Paranormal Activity films. The first one is now somewhat iconic, literally giving me those creepy, hairs-on-the-back-of-my-neck chills while watching it in the theater. I even had trouble sleeping for nearly three weeks afterward just thinking about it a little too close to bed time.
Paranormal Activity 2 worked for me mainly because I continued the creepy factor, and even gave what was (to me) the best scare of the entire series with the kitchen cabinet scene. The format was no longer original, but the film makers kept going with what made the first film worked, and even tied it into the first film (which was neat, at first).
Then the third Paranormal Activity came out, and where that one failed was in not showing us the one scene that was in trailers, with the girls playing a bathroom mirror game (similar to Bloody Mary or Candyman). There WAS a scene similar to that, but what they showed in the trailers appeared to be much scarier, and surprisingly was the one damn thing I was looking forward to, but alas never got. A few scenes did work in the film, like the girl being lifted by her hair from an unseen demonic force and the blanketed ghost child walking up behind the babysitter, but the ending was boring and began to "answer questions", which was something that, as a fan, I wasn't needing in the first place. Once things started getting answered, a lot of the thrills were taken away. Also, this was the first film where the cliche' of the "girlfriend who doesn't believe her boyfriend" came to play, and had the bitch just listened to her boyfriend and actually LOOKED AT HIS PROOF of a demonic presence, a lot of things could have been prevented. This was the first time in the series that the "real factor" that was created by the first film was slowly stripped away.
THEN Paranormal Activity 4 came out, and the cliche's starting piling on like too much frosting on an already-familiar tasting cake. The young girl playing the lead tried acting too hard, and came across less "real" than even the actors from the third film. A lot of the potential scares were recycled and obvious, and the whole story began to fit into a cycle of motions, with a lot of the scares coming at obvious times. And again, the film ended very much the same way as the third one.
Finally we get to the kind-of spinoff with Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, in which the two least charismatic actors from the entire series take up the majority of the screen time. The film, from what I've come to understand about the film, marginally ties itself into the first film, but leaves us with new questions that, in a way, seem to confound what "answers" the first two films tried to give us. The film also seems strangely more relevant to the world of the other "found footage" movie Chronicle than Paranormal Activity by making its lead actor seem more a corrupted superhero than a man possessed.
In the end, the series was much scarier when we didn't really know everything about the presence that was haunting the woman from the original. I was completely on board with the series (despite the third's growing use of cliches) up until the third act of the third film, and by the time this filth...I mean FIFTH...film of the series came out, the scares were marginal at best.
Worst of all, with The Marked Ones, the series seems to have forgotten any good reason for someone to be filming this shit to begin with. The first film did it best, and everything immediately following imitated for similar results. The fifth film tried to break that format by looking more fictional than real, and that, my friends, is how you truly destroy what small amount of fun is still left in the "found footage" genre.
SERIES RATINGS (Scores out of four stars):
Paranormal Activity - * * * *
Paranormal Activity 2 - * * *
Paranormal Activity 3 - * * 1/2
Paranormal Activity 4 - * *
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones - * 1/2