One of the unfortunate repercussions of creating a successful low-budget horror film is that following it up with an unending number of sequels seems to be the rule. Almost every great horror film has suffered from this problem, and often the sub-par quality of the sequels tarnishes the reputation of the superior original. So far, Oren Peli’s masterful ‘Paranormal Activity’ (2009) has had three such follow-ups since his original found-footage micro-budget supernatural shocker. In the same way we could expect a ‘Saw’ film every Halloween, last year saw the fourth instalment ‘Paranormal Activity 4’, now released on Blu-Ray and DVD. The question is, does the premise still have legs?
Alex (Kathryn Newton) lives a pretty typical teenage life with her feuding parents, her little brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp), and best friend Ben (Matt Shively), who isn’t so subtle about his feelings for her. Being a teenager of the post-iPhone era, everything in her life she records, whether on her laptop or her phone, and Ben is more than happy to help out. On Halloween in 2011, some new neighbours move in across the street, a mother and son, but after a freak accident, Alex’s parents end up taking care of the little boy Robbie (Brady Allen). Very quickly though, Robbie’s unusual behaviour starts to prompt some unexplainable and uncomfortable events around the house, and Alex becomes convinced something has arrived, and has Wyatt in its sights. The problem is, her parents won’t listen to her, and as the nightmare escalates, Alex has to take matters into her own hands.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 - TRAILER
While nowhere near as inventive or groundbreaking in its visual storytelling as Peli’s original, at least directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman find a way to be playful with the found-footage form. Using so many different video devices does give them more scope to explore our proximity to the characters, and a particularly clever devise of using an Xbox Kinetic’s infra-red abilities gives the film an unusual visual texture. It might not be as clever as the single unmoving, unedited camera of the original, but after three sequels, you start to accept the fact that the series will continue to cheat with multiple cameras and predictable editing. Screenwriter Christopher Landon does his best with the vaguely interesting narrative, still suffering from the deplorable twists in ‘Paranormal Activity 2’ (2010), but building from the far more interesting third film. In the end, though, we’ve strayed far from the path set by the highly original and incredibly disturbing first film. The scares are the same (how many more times do they think a closing door can possibly be scary?), the characters are wooden and uninteresting, and all ambiguity that the original revelled is swept away with banal horror cliché (Witches? Really?). This is far from being the worst horror franchise around, and this fourth instalment is certainly one of the better entries in the series, but compared to the ground-breaking film that started it all off, they just seem like pale imitations of something better.
In the end, we’ve strayed far from the path set by the highly original and incredibly disturbing first film.
PICTURE & SOUND
Preserving the film’s original 1.78:1 aspect ration, the 1080p transfer is as good as one would expect from a found-footage film. Image is sharp and clean, perfectly replicating the HD quality of home video devices. The same can be said for the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, which recreates the cinematic sound experience. Sound is such an integral part of this franchise, especially with a villain you pretty much can't see. Joost and Schulman actually do some great sound work here, with a lot of the dialogue almost inaudible, maintaining the mystery and building the tension. Overall, it won’t be the kind of film you use to show off your home theatre, but the intentions of the filmmakers are certainly preserved beautifully.
This franchise has never been big on bonus features, and the Blu-ray release of ‘Paranormal Activity 4’ doesn’t change that, lest it ruin the ‘found footage’ illusion the film creates. On offer is an extended cut featuring 10 minutes of extra footage, and ‘The Recovered Files’, which is essentially half an hour of deleted scenes cut together into a short film. There isn’t much of consequence in this extra footage, and at 97 minutes in its longer cut, the film is already long enough, but fans will probably find something in there of interest.