An extended “Unrated Edition” and a single bonus feature (30 minutes of “Recovered Files”) do little to enhance a sequel that seems to have given up the ghost.
When PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 appeared in theatres last year, it suggested that the franchise’s modus operandi had shifted from formula to template: whereas a formula allows for varying the ingredients, a template completely pre-defines the form and structure, allowing only for minor variations in the text being slotted in. The spooks were back, with new victims reprising the basic story line of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2; despite further hints of a cult worshiping the demon responsible for the hauntings depicted in the films, little new emerged, leaving less-forgiving viewers frustrated. The release of an unrated, extended edition of the film – first on VOD, then two weeks later on DVD and Blu-ray – conjured a glimmer of hope that additional scenes might fill out the story and bring PARANORMAL ACTIVITY a step closer to standing on its own rather than merely reprising the same old routines. Alas, that hope was exorcised by the simple expedient of watching the longer version.
Although the Blu-ray disc promises over 30 additional minutes, only nine of those minutes found their way into the unrated edition; the remaining footage is included as the disc’s only bonus feature, under the title “The Recovered Files.” The relative significance – or lack thereof – in the restored material will leave you wondering why certain scenes were deemed worthy of being included in the new cut while others were dumped into the bonus feature. None of these scenes enhance the film much, but the cumulative impact provides a hint into the filmmakers’ method, which apparently consisted of shooting endless variation on the same theme, then whittling it all down in the editing room.
The PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 Blu-ray disc offers English, French Spanish, and Portuguese language tracks in 5.1 surround sound. The English track is DTS; the others are Dolby. There is also an English Description audio track for those who are visually impaired.
There are subtitles in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
The film is broken up into 15 chapter stops; however, there is no way to access them from the main menu, which offers you options to play either the theatrical cut of the extended version; selecting either options starts the movie, without offering you a scene selection.
The only bonus feature is Recovered Files.
UNRATED EXTENDED EDITION
Clocking in at 1:37, the extended cut of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 runs approximately nine minutes longer than the theatrical version’s 88 minutes. The actual amount of restored footage probably comes closer to ten minutes; the nine-minute difference in running time is partly due to the deletion of the confusing post-credits teaser that appeared in theatres (a lead-in to a planned spin-off series, to be set in the Latino community).
The unrated version begin interestingly, with a a few brief scenes related to Halloween: Alex taking Wyatt trick-or-treating; Alex’s mother decorating cookies; Ben dressed in cowboy costume and sitting on alone in the living room, talking to Alex’s cat; Alex in her flimsy fairy costume (Dad jokes about where the rest of the costume is); and Alex and Ben out together at night, catching a glimpse of Alex’s spooky new neighbor Robbie, who will be the cause of so much trouble later. The sequence adds little to the story, but it establishes a mood of fun and safe scares that will gradually be usurped by the horrors that follow.
After the exterior scene in the park (minus the title card noting the date and location: Henderson, Nevada; November 11, 2011), with which the theatrical version opened, there is an unnecessary bit with a character named Jake showing his “palate expander” (a dental device) to Alex and Ben. The scene seems to be establishing Jake as a friend who will share the adventures to follow, but we never see him again (unless you catch a glimpse of him in the background of the sleepover party that takes place later).
The remaining additions are as follows:
- Alex’s brother Wyatt and the spooky neighbor kid Robbie watch a brief online video that scares Wyatt but not Robbie (who obviously has a higher tolerance for horror).
- Alex wanders around the house, glimpses Robbie (who mysteriously disappears), then suffers a false scare when a door suddenly opens, revealing Mom.
- A bit of Wyatt wandering from his bed in the middle of the night is intercut with Alex awakening as if sensing something is wrong. Alex goes downstairs to the living room, where a book mysteriously falls off a shelf twice, and she puts it back (foreshadowing a similar event that will befall her mother later in the picture).
The new scenes provide a few more moments of the patented PARANORMAL ACTIVITY spookiness, but none of them add much of anything that was not already in the film. The inclusion of the book-falling scene is redundant, since almost the exact same action is repeated later in the film.
THE RECOVERED FILES
The confusion does not end there, however. Moving onto “The Recovered Files,” we see scenes that connect to the restored footage or attempt to fill some of the plot holes in the theatrical version of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4. Why were these scenes left out? Many of them are redundant, but no more so than those that were restored. Though most of the lost files simply offer more of the same, one or two of the scens might actually have improved the film, if only slightly.
- The first recovered file is fairly typical of what will follow: an additional comic interaction between Alex and Ben, punctuated by a small scare; in this case, they hear a sound in the backyard.
- When the motion-sensitive lights go on outside, Alex sees Robbie creeping around her driveway.
- Alex does her geometry homework. Her door mysteriously closes behind her.
- Alex, Ben, and their friends play a length game of hide-and-seek inside the house while Alex’s parents are away. Predictably, the scene is loaded with fake scares of the spring-loaded-cat variety; it ends with the friends finding the front door open while the chandelier swings overhead. Jake, the character introduced and then forgotten in the Extended Edition of the film, is featured prominently here.
- Ben films Alex playing guitar while an electric fan blows her air, creating a music video effect.
- An additional video chat with Alex; after a fade out and fade in, we see Robbie enter (as seen in the film)
- Ben films Wyatt and Robbie playing in the sand.
- While Alex sleeps, the bedroom door opens, revealing Robbie’s silhouette.
- Alex shows the surveillance videos to her mother and asks when Robbie will be leaving.
- After the chandelier crash seen in the film, Alex argues with her parents, insisting that something strange is going on.
- At night, a toy falls on Wyatt’s bed.
- Ben plays Foosballwith Robbie and Wyatt.
- In a brief comic scene, the kids play on a slip-in-slide.
- Dad comes down stairs to sleep on the couch. A shadow appears, which turns out to be the malevolent Katie.
- Mom gives sedatives to Alex, to calm down her fears.
- Mom and Dad argue about Alex’s fears. Dad almost seems to believe them, or at least think they should not be dismissed.
- At breakfast, Wyatt calls himself Hunter (indicating his falling under Robbie’s influence). Mom and Dad shut him up.
- Mom and Dad talk about Alex again. Dad does not believe his daughter is crazy.
The two most significant scenes are the ones in which Alex’s mother and father discuss their daughter’s growing fears about Robbie and possible supernatural phenomena. One of the major flaws with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 is that the parents seem absolutely clueless, despite the video evidence that Ben and Alex are gathering. In these two scenes, we see that Alex’s parents are not completely oblivious to the situation; including them would have filled one small plot hole. (Of course, the parents still don’t actually do anything about Alex’s concerns, so including these scenes would only half-fix the problem.)
The Blu-ray disc of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 presents the film with good image and sound, along with additional footage that could please fans who want more than what they got in theatres. However, none of the additional scenes do much to improve a sequel that merely resurrects the same old ghosts.
Note: The unrated version of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (minus “The Recovered Files”) is also available on DVD and on Instant Video. You can purchase the disc here or watch the film instantly here.