Paranormal Activity 4
In 2009, a smartly made little found
footage film took the world by storm. Shot on a shoestring budget,
Paranormal Activity served as a beacon of what was possible to those
who viewed high production costs as a barrier to making a successful
independent film. Fast forward to 2012 and the unlikely has happened:
The Paranormal Activity franchise has become a commercial
juggernaut, churning out a fresh instalment each Halloween in a
tradition that fills the gap left in the market by the annual
oversaturation of Saw sequels. So how does the most recent
instalment hold up?
Unlike the previous sequels, which
focused primarily on the back story of the Demon’s first interactions
with a young Katie and the abduction of her Sister’s child Hunter,
Paranormal Activity 4 ostensibly moves the story forward by
picking up five years after the previously mentioned abduction and the
deaths of Katie’s sister and husband and her own partner, Micah. Moving
in across the road from teenager Alex, Katie soon disappears, leaving
her child Robbie in the care of Alex’s family.
It soon becomes apparent that Robbie
isn’t a normal child; he talks of an invisible friend and draws arcane
symbols around the house and on Alex’s little brother Wyatt, claiming
that doing so will “help them see Him”. Alex’s boyfriend Ben notices
Robbie climbing into bed with a sleeping Alex after recording one of
their webcam chats and the two conspire to set up cameras around the
house in an attempt to get to the bottom of Robbie’s bizarre behaviour.
It’s clear that by this point in the
franchise the directors have mastered the art of faux home-video
filmmaking, so the scenes come off as natural and unrehearsed. However,
a majority of the film is basically one protracted set up to the final
scene. This is a common structure for horror films but never has it felt
as overtly obvious as it does here. Directors Ariel Schuman and Henry
Joost seem to be going through the motions here, padding out the rather
skeletal plot with pointless footage that goes no way to answering the
myriad of questions long time fans of the franchise may have. One has to
wonder if this is the direction they saw their career going after they
gained success with the brilliant Catfish.
Alex and Ben make for likeable
protagonists and their naturalistic interaction goes some way to making
the premise of the film believable but it’s hard to feel anything for
the characters once they’re finally thrust into danger; the script is
meandering, drip feeding information regarding the witch’s coven
introduced in the third film without ever actually moving the story
forward and the “scares” of the film amount to not much more than shots
of children and Katie standing in the dark staring at something and a
swinging chandelier. The film does an admirable job using different
camera sources, such as webcams and even the Kinect, but when compared
to the brilliant Fan-Cam from part 3 these gimmicks come up short.
You wouldn’t expect a film that
purports to be “found footage” to have an image quality up there with
multi-million dollar blockbusters and Paranormal Activity 4 isn’t going
to change that expectation any time soon. As is fitting within the
context of the film, picture quality is tantamount to that of a decently
priced consumer-grade camcorder, so don’t expect the crisp image and
intricate detail usually found on Blu-ray. Colours are slightly washed
out, particularly skin tones and the grainy night shots but again these
apparent flaws further serve to sell the concept of the film really
being comprised of home footage and in that respect, the transfer more
than does its job.
Paranormal Activity 4 comes with a robust DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
lossless soundtrack; unfortunately this isn’t truly taken advantage of
until the final fifteen or so minutes of the film when the fright level
(and, by proxy, the sound levels) get ramped up to ten. There’s nice
differentiation between individual sound elements and no bleed through
from other channels. Overall it’s a nice little transfer that serves
the film well, with no technical issues apparent.
The only real extra feature of note is a 28 minute compilation of raw,
unedited clips called ‘The Recovered Files’. Aside from a few amusing
interactions between Alex and Ben, there isn’t anything here that adds
to the film, proving to be almost as tedious a viewing experience as the
movie itself. Also available is the option to watch either the extended
version or the more streamlined theatrical cut.
List of features:
Recovered Files (28:56)
It’s not hard to see why the studio
keeps pumping out these films – With a budget of just over 13 million
for four films they’ve made over 700 million in return. Numbers like
that indicate that the franchise is here to stay regardless of the
critical reception of this film. Indeed, Paranormal Activity 5 is
already in pre-production, with original director Oren Peli returning to
Following the surprisingly well
crafted sequels, Paranormal Activity 4 appears to be the first
major stumbling block in this franchise’s lucrative history; with too
many monotonous scenes punctuated by clichéd “JUMP!” scares, this entry
relies too heavily on what has worked in the other films, turning the
experience into one of familiarity and, dare I say it, boredom.
Long time fans of the franchise will
view this as an entertaining, albeit inconsequential, addition to the
canon of the series, but the lack of revelations concerning the
increasingly muddled mythology may serve to disenchant them somewhat.
Hopefully the upcoming fifth instalment will be more forthcoming.