Film Review – Paranormal Activity 2
Last year, a small, shoestring budgeted horror film took the world by storm and became arguably the most profitable movie ever made. Paranormal Activity (2007) proves that you can make an intense, effective, and suspenseful movie without the need for gore or brutality. The film used old school tricks as simple as footsteps being heard or a light turning on to create tension and anticipation in the viewer, with big payoffs. Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) looks to continue that trend, with another group of people being terrorized by an unseen force in a seemingly normal looking household. Does it live up to the standard the first film set? Read on and find out.
Warning: Minor Spoilers Ahead
The interesting thing about Paranormal Activity 2 is how closely intertwined it is with the first film. Here, we are introduced to the family of Katie’s (Katie Featherston) sister, Kristi (Sprague Grayden). If you remember, Katie was the main actress of the first movie. Kristi and her husband Daniel (Brian Boland) are shown early on bringing their brand new baby boy Hunter back home from the hospital, introducing him to his stepsister Ali (Molly Ephraim) and nanny Martine (Vivis). Time jumps forward, as Hunter is shown growing in to a toddler, and the family seemingly having a good stretch. Katie and Micah (Micah Sloat) stop by routinely to say hello. Micah was the other main character from the first film, and as the movie so generously reminds us, the events here take place prior to and during the events of the first movie. So in a way, this film is more of a companion piece to the first film instead of a sequel, or something like that, whatever.
Things get interesting when the family returns home to find their house completely trashed. Tables and chairs are turned over, junk spread all over the floor, bed sheets torn, etc. We never get to learn who was responsible for doing this, although we have our guess as to whom (or what) it was. To keep their family safe, Daniel and Kristi decide to hire an electronics crew to come in and install cameras in and around their house, keeping a watchful eye on the most vulnerable places in their home. But as odd things start happening, and the ever-seeing eyes of the cameras capture unexplainable events without a clear explanation, they become more and more certain that a demon-like force is responsible, despite their doubts of the supernatural. From there, as they say, “let the party begin.”
But enough about the plot, who cares about the plot? People don’t go to movies like this to see the interesting and deep stories and complex characters, they come to get scared. Is the movie scary? Well…yes and no. The film does employ many of the same elements the first film did. You have the bumps and creaks of the house, the doors slowly creeping open, the single light turning on and off at the most random of moments. There are two or three really big scares that will have the audience jumping out of their seats. This is all well and good, and does have the desired effect, but one of the problems that this film had was that it did not have the head strong pace that the first movie incorporated. With Paranormal Activity, director Oren Peli was able to establish and retain the uneasy tone to the point that we found ourselves nervous even though nothing is happening on screen. In this movie, director Tod Williams attempts to do the same thing, but takes it much more slowly. The first act of the film dragged very badly, there were some nights where simply nothing happens, where the cameras show night vision scenes with absolutely no action. This does not establish uneasiness, and we find ourselves almost impatient with how slowly things unfold, that when the scares do come, they are unearned.
One of the big problems this movie had was that it broke the one-camera/one-place rule that made the first movie so good. Because Paranormal Activity used only one camera set up in the bedroom, we did not see what happened during the events outside of there. We have to use our imaginations to picture what is happening, and because of that the effect is more terrifying. Here, the multiple-camera set up allows us to see everything that happens in the entire house, and because of that we take the movie at face value. When the scares happen, we become startled at first, but as we become more accustomed to what is taking place on screen (because we see what is happening), the effect is watered down. There is a scene that shows how baby Hunter escapes his crib, and instead of it being scary, I found it almost laughable, and not in a good way.
The film exposes two issues that I’ve always had with movies like this. The first deals with the haunted house dilemma. If you knew that you were being attacked by a demon in your home, how many days would you stay there by yourself? My guess would be no more than zero. It boggles the mind to think that this family would continue to stay in that place even though they know that crazy things are happening. The first film tried to counter this by saying it wasn’t the house that was being haunted, but the person. So does that mean they should just stay where they are and not try to do anything about it? Will the demon haunt them if they’re in their car? What if they’re out grocery shopping? If they throw a big party in their house, will the demon show up and perform magic tricks for the guests? If you invited your friends that were “heavy-set,” do you think the demon would be strong enough to drag them across the floor also? Sorry, I’m rambling.
The second major issue I have with movies like this is the “found footage/shaky-cam” style in which it was filmed. One of the great things that the first movie did was to keep the camera completely static; it created a sense of tensions and suspense. Here the film reverts to scare scenes with the hand-held, shaky cam style of filmmaking. I have always had a problem with this kind of camera shooting, because no matter much the camera shakes, no matter how amateur the filming seems to be, the camera will always stop for a brief moment to give you the exact information you need. In real life, more often than not the camera would not capture these moments. There are only a few films out there that do this really well, unfortunately this is not one of them.
Overall, Paranormal Activity 2 simply does not live up to the standard Paranormal Activity set. The first part moves dreadfully slow, spends too much time trying to give a back story to the characters, has one too many fake out or “gotcha!” moments, and has such an anti-climactic ending that you’ll walk out shaking your head. Yes, there are a few good scare moments here, particularly one involving the kitchen, but they are few and far between. The ending of the film points toward the possibility of a third movie, and if that happens, let’s hope it brings the series back, with this movie only being a minor segue way between the two.
Final Grade: C+