Paranormal Activity 4
Studio: Paramount Studios
US Rating: Unrated / R for Some Language and Some Brief Violent Material
Film Length: Theatrical 87 Minutes / Unrated 96 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 – Enhanced for Widescreen TVs – 1080p High Definition
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese
Release Date: January 29, 2013
Review Date: January 27, 2013
“Please don’t hurt me…”
The Film: 3.5 out of 5
It has been a few years since Katie disappeared with Hunter, her nephew (at the end of Paranormal Activity 2) and now, some distance from where the paranormal events took place, a new family has moved into a nice suburban neighborhood. Alex, a teenage girl attempts to introduce herself to the family, a mother and son, but they don’t seem quite right. One night, the mother of the home is taken away and the young boy, Robbie, is taken in by Alex and her family. Alex’s young brother, Wyatt, befriends the unusual young boy and it isn’t long before the calm of their suburban life is interrupted by activity which cannot be explained.
Each of the Paranormal Activity films use the “found footage” exclusively in their approach (though it plays less and less like that as the films progress), yet the common complaint of nausea from the shaky movements of the camera are largely avoided thanks to the plot which has one of the central figures of the story setting up cameras throughout the house to capture whatever has piqued their curiosity (or paranoia). It works. Ever since the original Paranormal Activity, this method of movie making has been surprisingly capable of lulling audiences into states of calm – with periods of normalcy and perhaps mundane routine - before upping the tension complete with a rumble of the audio to help nudge them into an unsettled mood. I’ve said this before, but there’s a mosaic quality to the narrative that works not only to catch audiences off-guard but pieces things together with the air of recovered footage assembled for discovery. Expanding the ways in which footage is captured – adding webcams from laptops, helps sell that dynamic.
This fourth outing shows signs of wearing out its welcome, especially if audience reaction is a worthy judge. Sitting in fourth place on both the domestic and the international gross chart, Paranormal Activity 4 grossed only around half of what the previous entry scared up and only two thirds of the second outing. That’s a worrisome sign despite the high return on investment for Paramount. However, the model upon which this surprise franchise has been built is to be applauded and no doubt still has enough life and interest left in it to be a fixture at the October release schedule for a couple more years. From a micro budget beginning to, comparatively, a mini-budget, these films are incredibly simple and still highly effective in drumming up the scares.
Throughout the franchise the performances have been impressively natural, a product of scripts that serve as outlines and the actors given space to improvise within the parameters of the moments they are playing out. That continues here with a strong turn by Kathryn Newton (Gary Unmarried) and a likeably light showing by Matt Shively as her plutonic friend, Ben. The parents this time around are played by Alexondra Lee and Stephen Dunman (The Mummy), married in real life. Sadly, Stephen Dunham passed away shortly before the film premiered. The two young actors playing Wyatt and Robbie are fine in their roles. CODE WORD: Unsettled
Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman and writer Christopher Landon continue to expose and reveal the backstory behind the paranormal activity, though the inching out of revelations (mainly in the closing minutes of the last two films) risks turning (and in many ways has turned) off fans who are either more inclined to simply care about the jumps and scares, or who have notions of their own for what’s behind the activity. The closing moments of the film don’t disappoint in raising the goose bumps, but at this point it’s hardly a surprise ending and hardly fresh ground. Something brand new is a must for any new entry if this franchise is to outlast the franchise it deposed from the theatrical throne.
The Video: 4 out of 5
Paranormal Activity 4 is presented in 1080p High Definition and is framed in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. As with others in the franchise, the image is solid. The web-cam footage is of better quality than any web-cam I have used, but it serves the viewing all-the-better. Night shots are either bathed in moonlight blue or the algae green of the X-Box Kinect motion sensors (which show up in night-mode on cameras apparently).
The Sound: 4 out of 5
Paranormal Activity 4 arrives on Blu-Ray comes with an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Again, as with the other entries, the majority of the movie is dedicated to conversations between the main characters and is focused in the center channel. A low rumble that shows up to assist the scares and chills broods healthily in the low range and in the .1 channel though the general audio is as much about its silence as its sounds. This release handles it nicely.
The Extras: 2 out of 4
Theatrical Version and Unrated Extended Version with an Additional 9 Minutes
The Recovered Files (HD): Around thirty minutes of scenes cut from the film, many are effective and provide additional exposition and character interactions.
Teaser Trailer (HD)
DVD version of the Theatrical and Unrated film, plus a Digital Copy of the Theatrical Version: For use with your iPod, Mac, and PC.
Fans were not as impressed with Paranormal Activity 4 as they were with the previous entries. The third entry was particularly lauded for sharing an origin story of sorts, heading back to the late 80’s to give us a glimpse into how it all started for Katie and family. It was a refreshing redirect and another reason audiences seem to have fallen out of favor with part four. Complaints of the scares – familiar retreads of how things have gone down in the three previous films – aren’t wrong, but the general sentiment is a harsher reflection than what you’ll actually find here. It may be treading water, creatively, but the jolts and jumps can be just as effective and the additional nine minutes seem to help the picture do its job a little better than what was shown in theaters but there are still precious few answers and questions hanging in the wind.
Overall Score 3.5 out of 5