PictureParanormal Activity comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p resolution encoded using the AVC codec and framed within a theatrically correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The disc itself is locked to region B.
Being shot using a high definition camcorder, this represents one of the harder titles to accurately score in terms of presentation as there isn't a great degree of room for improvement from the source. There is little to indicate that this is anything but an accurate depiction of the original material, but it is hard to shake the feeling that this just doesn't seem like a Blu-ray title. Coupling the consumer/prosumer level of equipment with the artistic choices of utilising natural lighting makes for a perfect atmosphere of a home video, complete with flaws aplenty. The harsh light attached to the front of the camera causes lighter shades to blow out and the darker areas of the room farther away from the lens remain relatively devoid of detail and can break into blocking.
Thankfully colours are well presented, with skin tones holding true to what one would expect from such footage and when lighting permits looking extremely natural. When there is no motion the shots generally stay reasonably well focussed, but that doesn't mean we ever see the levels of sharpness the format can offer. It can range wildly, from the good to the downright smudged looking. It would be hard to rate this highly, yet from what I understand there is little to indicate that this is really anything other than an accurate depiction of what was seen in cinemas - crushing, blooming and softness included.
SoundThere are just two tracks on this release, English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and English Linear PCM 2.0. Take note, the box itself states a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, but unless I've missed something it is definitely of the LPCM variety. For the purposes of this review I focussed on the 5.1 option.
The first thought that will likely cross your mind is that perhaps another mislabelling has occurred, as this track could almost be described as 1.1. In another instance of the disc being held back by the artistic choices made and the necessary push for realism, little in the way of multi-channel effects are to be found here, the two exceptions being the centre speaker and the subwoofer, both of which perform admirably. The ability to reproduce the at times muffled and tinny sounds capture by a microphone attached to a camera is certainly accomplished. This may not make for an exhilarating mix, but it does add to the depth of the supposed reality of the tale. Voices seem to shift in the soundstage without ever really deviating from the centre channel, which is achieved by way of resonance, sharpness and dulling certain pieces of the dialogue.
The standout feature though is the LFE, which is put to great use, but never over employed. There is great subtlety in the low rumble that slowly creeps into the room as an indication of a nearing supernatural presence. It gains in volume, but does so in a manner that remains tight and steady. The result is a pressure that builds, unsettles and then can either cease or throw a serious punch depending upon the situation. This restrained use of the speakers may not be to everyone's liking, but it does help emphasise the bass when it enters the fray and increases its impact. Like the image, it is not demo material, but it does remain true to the artistic roots of the film and the material that has winged its way onto Blu-ray.
A version of the film that merely branches on the final scene to show the alternate ending.
Audio commentary with writer/director Oren Peli
This will be an extremely helpful commentary for all those interested in low budget film-making. Peli takes us through the origins of his ideas, the problems of casting and production as well as the potential pitfalls that lay before him when trying to get his film recognised on the festival scene. It is chock full of fascinating titbits regarding the house, composition of shots, re-shoots, alternate endings and the general style of shooting. It also hits upon a few elements which should by rights have been more prevalent in the finished piece, such as a little more background information about Micah and why he has to take control of the situation. Little is left untouched as Peli tells us just about everything we could want to know and doesn't let the track lag or lack useful insights at any point. A fine example of a director's commentary.
Alternate ending - 1080p - 4:54
The original ending, which apparently didn't sit well with some test audiences and was later replaced in favour of a suggested idea by Steven Spielberg. It is less reliant on a sudden viewer reaction, but it is easy to see how its brutal and self destructive nature may have left audiences on more of a downer than scared.
“Film your own Paranormal Activity” short film winners - 576p - 23:11
The winning entry to the competition, entitled Heebie Jeebies, as well as the runners up's films all shown in full. The feature is a little oddly laid out, as the winner's short is accessible via the special features menu whereas only after that has finished are you taken to a screen giving you the option to view the rest.
VerdictParanormal Activity is a film that needs to be viewed under the correct conditions and with a certain amount of restrained expectation. Quotes that throw around hyperbole and try to depict it as “the scariest movie of the year/last ten years/ever” etc do it no favours as anyone who follows that level of expectancy will likely find the experience wanting. If however you can view this late at night with the lights out, it proves to be surprisingly effective at unsettling its audience. It may not be entirely original, but it outperforms many Hollywood horror chillers with budgets exponentially larger than Peli had at his disposal.
The Blu-ray is hamstrung to a certain extent by the artistic direction of the film towards the naturalistic and the budgetary constraints. Shot using a HD camcorder and often utilising only what light was already there, the image suffers from all the hallmarks of home movie footage. The audio fares a little better, but still under uses the 5.1 speakers available to it and only ever allows the LFE to flex its muscles. The extras go some way to making this a more complete package, with a director's commentary that will prove invaluable to any film student, but ultimately this is a disc that highlights the fact that Blu-ray may be a good medium for showing off films, but ultimately it can't improve the source.
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