By Chaz Lipp

I realize Paranormal Activity 4 didn’t exactly set the box office on fire, but $140 million worldwide for a movie with a $5 million budget is nothing to sneeze at. I also realize the fourth film in the famously low-tech series has proven to be the least popular with everyone from fans to critics. Not only did I enjoy the film, I thought it was at least as good as the far more acclaimed previous entry, Paranormal Activity 3.

There’s nothing new to see here. The faces have changed—we’re now in the home of the Nelson family—but the scares remain basically the same. And that’s the main problem with the film: we’re so accustomed to this series’ tactics that some of it has become cliché. Alex (Kathryn Newton) is the first in her family to notice something’s not right. Her parents are pretty much clueless, but her guy friend (often cited as her boyfriend, but their relationship doesn’t seem to be quite there yet) Ben (Matt Shively) humors her growing paranoia by installing video cameras in every possible device in the house.

Another problem with the movie is that no one seems interested enough in what happens in the recorded footage. Remember Katie and Mikah from part one, religiously studying every last anomaly their cams captured? Yeah, Alex and Ben aren’t quite that thorough. Mr. and Mrs. Nelson (Stephen Dunham and Alexondra Lee, respectively) surely could’ve been convinced that things were getting weird if they’d had access to certain key sections of tape. Alex has a younger brother, Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp) who takes up with an unusual boy, Robbie (Brady Allen), from across the street. Robbie ends up living with the Nelsons after his mother suffers an unknown malady and is rushed to the hospital.

Enough with the recap, that’s already probably more than anyone needs. You’re either interested in this tense, low-budget series or you’re not. The “where is this all going” vibe of the earlier ones (especially the original) is gone. By this point we kind of know where it’s heading and if you’ve seen the first three don’t expect to be all that surprised by anything (though the Xbox 360 tracking dots add a novel bit of visual variation). But there are still some chilling moments and the cast—especially 15-year-old Kathryn Newton—continues the series’ tradition of acting like real, unassuming people.

As for Paramount’s Paranormal Activity 4 Blu-ray presentation, the visuals are as good as can be expected considering this film (like the three before it) was shot with consumer-grade video cameras and other devices like webcams. Sure, there’s visible banding at times and pretty much every type of artifact you can think of (particularly digital noise in the darker scenes). But remember, that’s the way it was supposed to be. Anymore polish than this, and the “authenticity” would be ruined.

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack also gives us precisely what we expect from the series. Dialogue is sometimes too quiet or blown out, depending on any given actor’s proximity to the camera (again, entirely intentional). The typical thumps, buzzing, and other noises emanating from the house are reliably placed within the surround spectrum. Part four does exactly what it needs to and nothing more. None of the four films was every really intended to show off your system’s full capabilities.  

Special features are limited, with only a 28-minute reel of unused footage. The film itself is presented in both its theatrical cut and a nine minute longer unrated cut. I didn’t see this in theaters and went straight to the unrated cut, so I can’t say with any authority which version works better. At about 97 minutes, the unrated cut moves along at a good pace. If I ever revisit the film (perhaps in preparation for the coming October release of Paranormal Activity 5) I’ll stick with the longer version.

(Photos: Paramount Pictures)
Chaz Lipp

One thought on “Blu-ray Review: Paranormal Activity 4

  1. I found the movie to be slow paced. I did think that there was going to be more scary things jumping out during the movie but that was kept to a minimum.

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