Review: Not Much Activity in Paramount's Paranormal Activity 2
by Jeremy Kirk
October 23, 2010
The general idea behind a sequel, particularly a horror sequel, is the word "more". More scares. More characters. More of what the original film had to offer but usually on a bigger scale and with heightened stakes. Paranormal Activity 2 certainly has the "more characters" part down pat. The first film, a motion picture phenomenon that has essentially launched a new franchise, involved two people in a house trying to deal with the things that go bump in the night. With this sequel, there's a whole family of four, and a nanny, who are hearing strange noises and feeling the eerie presence of something not quite right. Unfortunately, that's exactly where "more" ends with Paranormal Activity 2, and the scares just end up being refurbished shockers that have already been used, sometimes even before they were used in this film's predecessor.
The family at the heart of Paranormal Activity 2 is related to the couple from the first film. You see, this film is, in essence, a prequel. The mother of this family is also the sister of Katie, the girl from the first Paranormal Activity who is being "stalked" by a demon. Evidently, a few months before he moved on to big sis, he had his eyes set on this family's baby. After an apparent break-in, the family has a security camera installed in a six rooms of the house, just enough differing vantage points to capture any strange goings on that might occur and that might deliver scares to the film's audience.
From the start, with an opening that quite nicely establishes each of the five main characters in Paranormal Activity 2 (as well as reintroduces us to the two leads from the first), the film, directed by Tod Williams, seems satisfied with long moments of very little happening. Lights flip on and off by themselves. Doors open and close by themselves. The pool's vacuum cleaner spider-crawls up the side of the pool and out. You know. Really terrifying things. The first hour and probably well into the rest of the film's 90 minutes are devoted to these standard, ghost story antics. Basically, you watch the film cut from the different rooms each night the activity occurs (all in the same pattern, too, an idea that gets annoying quickly) waiting for something in either the background or the foreground to unnerve you in your seat. Very little does.
The sheer anticipation of the scares is something that works in the film's earlier moments. You watch each shot, observing everything in the room. You might even think you see something in the background moving, but you realize it's just a leaf moving from the wind. It isn't until the scene cuts to morning that you rest easier, having only had to experience a slight bump or that damn pool cleaner acting all hokey. With each passing night, though, the nerves become more and more confident, so that when something really does happen, it's more of a relief that you're actually watching a horror movie instead of basic security footage.
Maybe this idea of unnerving is what Williams and crew were going for. Unfortunately, the pacing of the film is way off, and, once those real scares start to take place, they aren't even all that scary. Sure, the idea of a baby being pulled backward by his feet in his crib is creepy, but then cut to a shot of the baby with his back pressed against the inside of the crib as if he's performing a floating magic trick. It's unintentional humor at its worst, and it just looks awkward. The idea of a woman being pulled by some unseen force by her feet down a hallway is terrifying.
Remember how scary that was in Paranormal Activity? That concept is back, but it's enhanced by CG and so overblown that the simplicity of it has gone out the window. And, sadly, that seems to have been the idea going into Paranormal Activity 2. "Remember that scary thing we showed you in the first film? Well, here it is again." A few scares work well, ones that won't be revealed here for obvious reasons, but they are few and far between and they never stay with you nearly as much as most of the scares from the first film.
Screenwriter Michael R. Perry does a decent job incorporating the characters from the first film. Realizing early on that this is a prequel to Paranormal Activity keeps you guessing just how it ties into the events of that film. Sadly, it also takes away from the first film. Certain things are explained that should have been left a mystery, and that is really the biggest problem prequels seem to have. For some reason, everything has to be explained. The people behind these films seem to think the audience who was so terrified by their first film needs to have a reasoning behind everything, and that's simply not true. The worst thing a sequel/prequel/follow-up of any kind can do is make the predecessor less effective. That is precisely what is done by the time the story in Paranormal Activity 2 unfolds completely.
The execution is awkward, as well. The idea of going back and forth between security footage and handheld footage isn't jarring, so it's got that going for it, but the choice of when to use what is very odd. Handheld footage is used during simple conversations, which raises two questions. Why was one of the people in the conversation filming it, and why didn't the director just have the audience see the conversation from the security camera's vantage point? It's the worst problem found footage films have, the idea of why is that character still filming this? By the time Paranormal Activity 2's "harrowing" climax occurs, it has devolved into The Blair Witch Project in a haunted house. Just don't go into the basement. Oh, look, you did that, too.
Paranormal Activity 2 is a lot of been-there-done-that, a flat haunted house story that seems satisfied with resting on the things that go bump in the night and not pushing the horror envelope any further than it has to. At one point, after a door has slammed behind a character, the father of the family says something to the effect of, "it must have been the wind." It wasn't the wind. It was a sigh of desperation from the film's audience that something, anything truly terrifying was about to occur. Keep sighing, audience. Maybe the collective gushes of air can push the family out of the house and out of Paranormal Activity 2 for good.
Jeremy's Rating: 4 out of 10