PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 Review:
- Back in college, my freshman year, I think, I remember seeing and being sorely disappointed with Blair Witch 2. I mean, the original had been such a defining, influential movie, that to go and turn the sequel into some generic teen horror movie made no sense whatsoever. Last year, Paranormal Activity was in many ways the second coming of The Blair Witch Project. It was an ultra-low-budget horror film that was created as a "found footage" story. Blurring the line between reality and fiction, Paranormal Activity was so scary because it felt like watching someone's home videos. The subtlely spooky effects were just convincing enough so that all of this felt like it could really be happening. The sense of tension and creepiness was off the charts. Sure, the movie had some detractors who found the execution gimmicky, but for me, Paranormal Activity worked amazingly well. Not only was it one of the most genuinely scary movies I'd seen, but it had the Blair Witch-like effect of making me want to go out and make my own found-footage horror movie. There was an economical and entrepenuerial spirit inherent in the movie - you could sense the fun the filmmakers were having at every turn, and their giddy desire to scare you made the movie that much more memorable.
So the big question going into Paranormal Activity 2 was: would this be Blair Witch 2 redux? Would all the magic of the low-budget original be lost now that the franchise was part of the Hollywood sequel factory? I think it was easy to be skeptical ... the original film worked because it was made on a shoestring budget by some very enterprising and creative indie filmmakers. But the good news is that PA 2 works perfectly as a companion piece and pseudo-prequel to Part 1. The look and feel of the movie is the same, and the scares are as terrifying as ever. While there is some sense of deja vu in seeing so many of the original's old tricks trotted out yet again, it's also nice to see the movie sticking to what worked so well before. If you've seen the first film then, yeah, you know what to expect here. But, that's part of the fun - now, the sense of anticipation is there to ramp up the tension even further - you know, of course, that it's only a matter of time before terror ensues.
Paranormal Activity 2 is pretty clever in how it ties back into the first film. The bulk of the sequel takes place a couple of months prior to the events of the Part 1, introducing us to Kristi -the sister of the original's main character, Katie (Katie Featherston - who reappears here in a supporting role), and her family - her husband, his teenage daughter from a previous marriage, and their infant son. The cool thing is that we start to get a little more backstory that gives some added context to the events of the first movie. I like that we understand more about the strange events of the series, but at the same time, appreciate that there is restraint and we're not suddenly hit over the head with an overcomplicated mythology.
Meanwhile, new director Tod Williams mimics a lot of the found footage techniques of the original. Through home security cams and home videos, the movie pieces together a period spanning several days in the life of our characters. Some of the home video footage gets a little too shaky at times, but the security cam footage is probably the movie's most effective at eliciting scares. Williams does a nice job of familiarizing us with the various rooms of the main house, so that when something unusual happens, it's similar to the effect of something strange happening in your own house. The contrast of weirdness happening in such a mundane setting is what helps to make the movie so creepy. Some of the home-video scenes do feel a little contrived though, and invite the question of why the characters are bothering to film at all (aka the Cloverfield effect). But, overall, the found footage conceit comes mostly naturally and without too much suspension of disbelief.
It's also important for the actors in a movie like this to act as naturalistically as possible, so you stop thinking of them as actors and just look at them as real people. Overall, the cast does a really nice job with this - there aren't really a lot of moments where you're taken out of the film.
Now, how about the scares? On this front, PA 2 definitely succeeds. Just like when I saw Part 1, half the fun was looking around the theater and seeing the looks of terror on everyone's faces, seeing people screaming and jumping out of their seats during the big "holy-$%#$," gotcha scenes. As before, PA 2 is impeccable in terms of how it builds and builds towards its big money shots so effectively. Again, there is a lot of similar stuff going on to Part 1, but there is also enough new here to keep you interested. The different character dynamics (whereas Part 1 was just a couple, now you throw a teenage daughter, a baby, and a superstitious housekeeper into the mix) also help to keep things fresh. The baby lends an added creepiness factor to the precedings, and the teen daughter - eager to research all the ensuing weirdness online - helps to serve as the voice of the audience to some extent. Do I want to see an endless parade of sequels after this one? Not really. The film neatly sets up a potential Part 3, which is fine ... but beyond that, I hope there isn't pressure to do an annual Paranormal Activity movie. It's a fun concept to revisit, but given that the signs of repetition are already starting to show themselves here, it'd be a shame to milk the franchise for all its worth in the years ahead.
PA 2 was never going to be able to 100% replicate the out-of-nowhere thrill and originality of the first film, but it's right up there with Part 1 in terms of scares and overall fun-factor. It's the rare horror sequel that doesn't hurt the rep of its predecessor. And, it's the perfect movie to help get you into the Halloween spirit. Just be prepared to sleep with the lights on afterwards.
My Grade: B+