If you've been following the entire Paranormal Activity franchise since its inception, then as a loyal fan you're probably waiting for some answers as to why all these crazy poltergeists keep happening to good people time and again. The series began as a small independent horror film phenomenon created by Oren Peli and then morphed into an intricately-layered and profitable horror series for Paramount Pictures.
The Story So Far
The events of the first three films told the story of two sisters Katie and Kristi, who as children both encountered an unseen and malevolent supernatural force. The memories of certain tragic events from their youth faded from their memories as they grew into adults, but the demonic force returned with a vengeance (possessing both sisters on separate occasions) that resulted in the deaths of their significant others and the kidnapping of Kristi's young son Hunter by her sister.
Also divulged is that the entity is supported by an ancient coven (a group that the girls' grandmother was an intricate part of), with the goal to find a male host in their bloodline that the spirit can inhabit.
The Fourth Film
Picking up a few years after a possessed Katie walked away with baby Hunter at the end of Paranormal Activity 2, installment four focuses on a suburban family that find themselves with interesting new neighbors...a mysterious single mother and a young boy named Robbie.
After the mother is strangely taken to the hospital, Robbie is invited to temporarily stay with the family and bunk with their young boy Wyatt. Soon enough strange things begin happening in the house, causing teenage daughter Alex (Kathryn Newton) to investigate why.
It's easy to assume that by now the Paranormal Activity series might be outstaying its welcome. After three movies, fans deserve some some answers and finality but ultimately that's not Paranormal Activity 4's goal.
Instead the film presents even more intriguing questions than it answers (a clear intent to keep the series chugging) and fans might be irked to find that the fourth film is a very similar experience to the previous film (including a finale in a darkened house surrounded by coven members and a dangerous entity stalking you).
What the film does manage to address is where Katie and Hunter ended up after Paranormal Activity 2 and what the strange triangular symbol from Paranormal Acitivity 3 means. It also tries some new POV tricks with laptop cameras and an Xbox console's night vision, but the tried-and-true first-person camera is still in play as well.
Strengthening the film is newcomer Kathryn Newton as Alex, a teenager who carries the weight of the movie on her suspicious shoulders and gives us a new character we care about not coming to any harm. Is the movie still scary and fun? Absolutely. But the fatigue is evident and it's time to put this franchise to bed. Otherwise the creators run the risk of alienating their fans with ambiguity (i.e. Lost).
The Blu-ray/DVD Edition
Paranormal Activity 4 (due for release on January 29, 2013) is packaged in a Blu-ray/DVD combo edition that comes with two cuts of the film (on both discs), a theatrical and extended version that runs several minutes longer. Either cut works well for the cinematic experience and viewers may find the extended edition has more to offer in regards to the series mythology.
Because of the different perspectives and footage, the video quality of the Paranormal Activity series always intentionally varies, which serves its story well. With that said, the disc relays those separate images well to the audience. The home video camera is pristine high-definition, while the laptops are dark and flat (which add more suspense from what you can't see in the frame).
For the fourth consecutive time, the sound mode on Paranormal Activiy 4 is a killer 5.1 DTS track and one of the best weapons in the series' arsenal on home video. When the jump scares hit and the creepy background noises take place, a home theater sound system delivers the goods thanks to the disc's capabilities.
Like previous releases, the supplemental material on Paranormal Activity 4 is light. The only add-on is a roughly thirty-minute viewing of "recovered footage", most of it useless in importance or purpose, but with one exception (a fun sequence that finds Alex and her teenage friends playing hide-and-seek in the house has a valid argument for why it wasn't inserted in the movie).
If you've come this far, then taking another trip into the simple, yet scary suspense zone with Paranormal Activity 4 is not too bad an offer. The fourth film proves that the series still has life but may be starting to wane in creativity, leading to the inevitable fifth film later this year that should hopefully address these issues.
The Blu-ray/DVD combo edition provides the experience effectively in high-definition and standard quality, but still cheats fans on learning more about the mythology and the story with some cool extras.