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FILM: Paranormal Activity 2

Written by Marcus Campbell on October 22, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2
Directed by Tod Williams
Starring Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

Less than a year has passed since Paranormal Activity, where we cautiously peeked at the hazy, chillingly lucid home videos left behind by Micah and Katie after they were tormented by an evil presence. The original film was made for less than the cost of a good video camera and went on to smash records for its earnings ($107 million was the last count)…needless to say it turned heads at Paramount. So before the hype died down and the sweat dried from our palms, a sequel has been churned out that closely follows the lead of the first, but sadly it fails to turn up the terror dial.

This time around, we spy on a young family through the shaky handheld camera of the curious teenage daughter as well as 6 security cameras that are set up after the home is trashed in a suspected robbery. Along with the daughter is her father Daniel Rey, mother-in-law Kristie (Sister of Paranormal’s Katie) and her baby brother Hunter. All the roles are acted by unknowns to keep to the DIY- “this is really real” feel of the original and they succeed in making us believe we’re watching footage that has been discovered in the house post-haunting.

As difficult as it would have been to do, new screenwriter Michael R. Perry succeeds in linking the Carlsbad family to the events of Micah and Katie as a prequel that brings us up to date with the events of Paranormal Activity. The tie-in works, and thanks to some sinister behaviour by one of the human characters we get an explanation for some of what was happening in the original film. This is the most rewarding element of the sequel; by expanding the mythology of Paranormal Activity, we get a whole new horrifying glimpse of the full motivation behind the persistent evil presence. But adding to the depth of the story is also the sequel’s biggest failing. The original film subverted the tired idea of the presence of evil existing to punish people for their wickedness. It relied on the terrifying suggestion of the unknown impulses of evil; it tortured Katie because it wanted to.

Paranormal Activity 2 does have its moments. Just as in the original; mundane domestic life goes on. We are constantly shown images of empty rooms and outside yards that suggest just as much menace by their emptiness than anything Craven or King have conjured up lately. Each night, something so small and subtle happens to the material environment to make you think of your own home and what ‘activities’ could be happening just outside your field of vision. Horror and tension are suspended and then deflated so many times it sets you up for the shock moments that could otherwise be called cheap thrills. Thankfully the cheap thrills are few so the suspense maintains a slow burn right up until the pacing goes mental for the closing scenes that feel rushed, sloppy and ultimately unrewarding.

Disappointing too are the clichés that are frequent and unremitting, with the addition of the infant Hunter, who ‘naturally’ responds to evil easier, the pet German shepherd who ‘naturally’ senses evil better, and the Hispanic Catholic nanny who ‘naturally’ knows how to deal with evil spirits. Their responses are about as easy to predict as in the first film when the psychic is called back to the house and refuses to enter. And unlike the first film, the ability to predict what is coming doesn’t add to the dread, it just murders the potency of the material.

Original writer/director Oren Peli initially didn’t like the idea of a sequel but was turned around by the Paramount execs to come on board as producer. Perhaps if he wasn’t too busy, rich and important directing his new sci-fi thriller Area 51 he could have made sure the unique experience of Paranormal Activity followed on to the sequel in more ways than just the visual flavour. Sequels will pay the bills, but you gotta step things up to keep the kids impressed.

You will love this if: You’re a fan of the original and need closure…plus a few scares.

You will hate this if: You don’t really want to see the same tricks you saw 11 months ago.

Paranormal Activity is now screening in wide release

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