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October 24, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2

(2010, Dir. by Tod Williams.)

That(Those?) pesky (alleged) demon(s?) that took move theaters by storm last October had a quick turn around, and are back on screens in Paranormal Activity 2.  I was initially rocked by Paranormal Activity, and a DVD revisit left me less scared, but still entertained.  The film represented exactly what I love about horror - a simple story of shocking events that got under my skin.  I was never quite sure how a sequel would work, so I avoided the build up to the film with plans to go in to it completely blind.  I wasn't sure about how the movie would happen, but I knew I was curious enough to dive back in to the Paranormal world.

I'll try to keep the details minimal throughout this review, but I have to give you a basic set up the film to get my points about the thing across.  The new film brings back Katie and Micah from the original, and focuses on filling in the gaps that surround the first film.  The focus is not on them this time - we've seen most of their tale - but instead is on Katie's sister and her family.  This family includes her husband (another skeptical male type), step-daughter (another dark-haired gal who's open to the paranormal), her young son Hunter (who's pictured in the poster), and the family dog Abby.  The story starts well before the events that occurred in the first film, but part of the story deals with the events that happened from a different perspective.  This is connect-the-dots cinema, folks.

Paranormal Activity 2 handles these tie-ins with the original pretty well.  Katie and Micah are present in the story - Katie far more than Micah, thankfully - but are kept at a far enough distance to make the film feel like its own beast.  It's safe to say that events here directly effect some things that occurred in the first film, but the camera never seems to wink at the viewer and does its best to maintain the "found footage" feeling of the original.  It doesn't quite succeed in this regard, and we'll talk about that more in a bit. 

More importantly to most, a lot of the scare tactics used in the first film return to the sequel.  A lot of them don't seem to carry the same weight they did back then (I guess that's the sacrifice you make when you have carpeted stairs instead of hard wood), but some seem to be even more effective.  There's one particular fright - which many have named as their favorite scare in the first film - that I felt was even more surprising and well-done this time around.  There are a couple of new scares added that work really well, too.  Most of the time you know something is coming, but are never sure of what - and the script did manage to surprise me a couple of times.  Particularly effective is a kitchen scene in which Katie's sister experiences a surprising jolt.

Having a toddling child as one of the focal points of the film also adds to the suspense at times, because no one really wants to see a kid get tortured by a (alleged) demon.  But this occasionally causes some unintentional levity in the film.  Young Hunter - or whoever the not-yet-credited child actor was - is an adorable little fella (a friend I saw the film with claimed "he couldn't have been cuter"), and there are a couple of moments of tension that are broken up by this little bugger waddling in front of the camera.  I know the movie wants me to be scared at these moments, but there's an "Awwwwww, cuteness!" factor that wins out in the moment.

Another drawback is that the sequel feels a lot more like a staged production than the first film did.  Instead of one lingering camera, we've got six mechanical eyes mounted in different areas of the house and another handheld number that now adds some night vision scenes to the mix.  While Paranormal Activity's camera lingered in one spot, drawing us into a moment when anything could happen, the sequel cuts between cameras often (at a couple of points it even seems to emulate Tony Scott by jumping three seconds ahead for no reason).  This takes away from the "reality" that the film is still preaching, and just isn't as interesting.  Some handheld night vision sequences remind of Quarantine (they're not scary enough to remind of [REC]), and they also distance the film from its predecessor.  I liked what Paranormal Activity did by making us simply stare at one spot, and the sequel's insistence on being mobile and covering more characters takes away from this.

It sounds like I didn't enjoy Paranormal Activity 2, but that's not true.  There's still a lot of fun to be had with this one, which produces some good scares and adds to the mystery of Katie/Micah's story that we already know.  The events that transpire around Katie's sister in the third act are handled tremendously (except when night vision comes into play), and are responsible for the biggest doses of unease I felt during the film.  The actress who played her (thanks for nothing, IMDB!) did a fine job with the character, and her and the returning Katie Featherston make pretty believable sisters.

There were plenty of hooligans in the theater that were content with ruining the experience for everyone, but I still enjoyed myself with Paranormal Activity 2.  It's a fun shocker if you don't take it seriously, and it still seems to understand slow-burn tension better than most mainstream released horrors of recent memory.  (We really have to consider ourselves lucky that it wasn't called Paranormal Ac2vity and focused on a plot about a streaming webcast of demonic events.) The disappointing thing about it is that there aren't as many surprises to be found this time around.  I, along with plenty of others, spent far too much time over-analyzing the first film (my favorite theory about that film is pretty much debunked here), and - through no fault of this film's - the mystique was gone here.  I liked the additions, and there are still plenty of questions left to be answered (that will surely be batted around in the inevitable third film), but the simple tale of Micah and Katie was more than enough to haunt me.

In fact, that film stuck with me for weeks after.  After about three minutes of discussion after this film, the only lingering mental effect on me was a desire to drink some orange juice.  I had to go to the store anyway, so I grabbed some, and it was pretty delicious.  That's a fine achievement - I don't remember the last time I was inspired to buy orange juice, which is full of Calcium and good for my bones - but it's not really what I was hoping for after what the first film did to me.


Enbrethiliel said...


I was also wowed (and spooked) by the first Paranormal Activity, and I wouldn't mind watching a similar haunting unfold.

However, I thought a great deal of the unsettling atmosphere from the first movie comes from Katie and Micah's not being married. So the sight of a dog and a child in the very poster of the second movie gives me pause. I'm going to wait and see, as usual.

Thanks for the review, The Mike! =)

Paranornal Activity 2 said...

I don't understand why so many people hate the shaky camera perspective of the movie. I think this is what makes it genuinue and ultimately so awesome