Paranormal Activity 2
Directed by Tod Williams
Starring Sprague Grayden, Katie Featherston, Brian Boland, Molly Ephram, Micah Sloat
Release date: October 22, 2010
It should be noted that a majority of this review was typed on a smartphone while sitting in the theater waiting for something to happen. Okay not really, but it could have been done that way given the amount of down time viewers have between scary parts of Paranormal Activity 2.
It came as no surprise that after the original ultra-low budget original film made millions worldwide that Hollywood would try to capture lightning in a bottle a second time with a sequel. While others have done the same before with weak results (Blair Witch anyone?), it’s likely Paranormal Activity 2 will get the same reaction as the first… because it IS the same as the first.
The first important detail the previews left out is that this sequel is, for 97% of the film, a prequel to the original film. Set roughly two months prior to the events of the first film, Paranormal Activity 2 follows the Rey family, a married couple with two children, including newborn Hunter. After finding their home in disarray from what they believe to be a break-in, they have several security cameras installed. The film combines the footage from these cameras and a single hand-held camera that switches hands at several points.
So what’s the connection to the first film? The mother, Kristi (played by Sprague Grayden), is the sister of Katie (played by Katie Featherston) from the first film. This relationship plays a major role in the film and both Katie and her boyfriend Micah (played by Micah Sloat) make several appearances throughout the film.
This should tell you all you need to know about Paranormal Activity 2 before you see it, but if you must know how it copies itself, read on. The “found footage” genre of horror films has become more popular in recent years, but direct sequels are rare and when they do come around they often abandon the format. It is in that sense that Paranormal Activity 2 stands out, but duplicating the first film’s formula magnifies both its strengths and its weaknesses.
When the first film came out, viewers didn’t know what to expect, so the long gaps of nothing leading up to a sudden bang or arbitrary object moving served to build a sense of tension. This time, however, it’s just more of the same, so most viewers will know they have to sit through an hour of banter and demonic pranks before anything truly sinister starts to happen. When the bigger scares do start to happen, they are enough to get most people to jump in their seat, but they feel cheap as the film goes on, since the formula becomes apparent. The viewer’s attention will be drawn by some light or slight movement by a character while a low-frequency rumble is pumped through the theater speakers. Then BANG! Sure, it will scare most people, but so would walking up behind them and popping a balloon. It’s not great storytelling.
But the first film wasn’t great storytelling either. It took a simple premise and didn’t go overboard with it, which all on its own makes these films refreshing from a large portion of horror films these days. Rather than gross people out with extended kill scenes or CGI monsters, Paranormal Activity 2, like the first film, lets the audience use their imaginations to fill in for horrifying aspects of the story.
It’s a good idea that could have been a great one if the filmmakers gave the audience more credit. A large amount of dialogue comes off as contrived as characters feel the need to narrate or insert major plot points awkwardly into conversation. Likewise, there are moments where the audience is forced to watch the “activity” from one view, often from the handheld camera moving in very unnatural way, when one of the other six security cameras (yes, six) has a better view. This could be excused if we were somehow watching the event as it happened, but like the first film, Paranormal Activity 2 is the supposed composition of footage found after the fact, so it makes one wonder why the fictional editor would chose the least informative angle to include footage from when compiling the finished film.
Bottom line is that if you enjoyed the first film you’ll probably enjoy the second one. While it doesn’t really break any new ground, it does supply the same sense of unease and tension that gave a lot of people sleepless nights after seeing the first film. Likewise, if you were bored with the first you’ll find nothing redeeming about the second or the inevitable third that will go into production after this film clears $100 million.