We had every reason to expect the sequel to last year’s surprise hit “Paranormal Activity” to be horrid. Movies like that come out of nowhere and make more money than anyone could have expected, so a sequel has to follow, right? God forbid the money train stops there! Even in the new millennium, greed is still king. Most people were expecting this to be as terrible as “The Blair Witch Project 2: Book of Shadows” which itself was a giant insult to its predecessor, hence giving more fuel to the haters who felt they were tricked out of their money. Besides, how can you expect a story like this to remain fresh let alone terrifying? We weren’t expecting what got hurled at us last time, but now we feel more prepared to scan every scene of the movie so that we can predict when the scares come.
Well, it is to my astonishment that I report that “Paranormal Activity 2” is no “Blair Witch 2.” Heck, it’s not even an “Open Water 2” or a “Jaws 2” or an “Exorcist 2” for that matter. This sequel turns out to be just as scary and unnerving as the original, and it respects the Oren Peli’s film for what it was and does nothing to detract from it. In fact, this sequel adds additional layers to the original which enhances the experience all the more.
“Paranormal Activity 2” opens up in Carlsbad, California where we meet Dan and his second wife Kristin as they arrive home with their newborn son, Hunter. Once they are there, we also get to meet Alli, Dan’s daughter from another marriage, the family housekeeper and nanny Martine, and the loyal German Shepherd Abby. A couple of days later after going out of town, they come back to the house to find that it has been ransacked and burglarized, but surprisingly nothing has been stolen. As a result, Dan ends up getting security cameras installed in different areas of the house to make his family feel safe, and maybe catch whoever did this. After that, things start getting scary as loud as an ominous hum pervades the family dwellings as a sign that something nasty is about to happen. Just like the original, the men never take the women or their fears seriously, and that just makes the rest of us guys look like bad boyfriends and husbands.
Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat return from the first movie as Katie and Micah, but Katie is the one who is more prominently featured. It turns out that Katie is Kristin’s sister, and that they two shared a scary past when they thought they were being terrorized by a spirit. Both are loathe to explain what they went through as children because the terror of it somehow coming back is too great.
Now the really clever thing about “Paranormal Activity 2” is that it turns out to be as much a prequel as it is a sequel. The story actually takes place several weeks before the events portrayed in the original, and the ending more or less coincides to what Katie and Micah went through. This I thought was an inspired decision because it gives more weight to the story of not just this film, but the original as well. This is not just some dumb follow up with the same old story filled with characters making the same stupid mistakes. The fate of this family is very much interlocked with the fate of Katie and Micah, and their inevitable doom makes this sequel all the more haunting.
Now whereas “Paranormal Activity” had just the one camera which Micah had situated in his and Katie’s bedroom for the most part, this second film has us looking through a number of security cameras which record the house from different angles, each revealing small little things that haunt the house mercilessly. Then there are other scenes where one of more characters are holding the camera and making us see everything that they see as they search through the house late at night. The security cameras by themselves present freaky enough images to gives us goose pimples, but when we have the first person perspective, things get even more intense than they already are.
You know what really gets to me about these movies? The silence around the house and the lack of a film score. For me, being alone in a room or a house without any noise gets my anxiety running and has me on edge as I suspect something bad is about to occur, and I won’t be able to prevent it from happening. Both “Paranormal Activity” movies understand this anxiety perfectly and play on it to the max without a reliance on blood and gore. Plus, your home is where you and your family are supposed to feel the safest. Now what happens when the safety of your home is completely violated? Where can you feel safe after that?
The choice of director for “Paranormal Activity 2” is actual a surprise and not who you might expect. Tod Williams is best known for directing “The Door In The Floor,” a criminally under seen drama with powerfully stinging performances by Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger. How the producers thought of Tod for this film is beyond me, but he gives this sequel a strong suspenseful tone that keeps the tension at a high pitch throughout. Tod also gives us a couple of excellent jump out of your seat moments that will make your hair stand on end, especially one in the kitchen (trust me, you’ll know it when you see it).
As for the acting, it’s all good, nothing spectacular which is perfect for a film like this. I also have to give special props to Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat who still act ever so naturally in front of the camera. After the first film, you’d think they would have a tougher time with that and be even more self-conscious than they were before. But they both act normal as if the first movie never happened which I found very impressive.
I’m not sure I can go on in description about “Paranormal Activity 2” for fear of giving away too much. I was pleasantly (in a manner of speaking) surprised at how effective this sequel was because This could have been nothing more than a scam to produce a bigger profit than what came before. The surprise of the original is gone, and there’s not much new brought to the material here. This one also has end credits which the original did not, although there is an elongated pause for those who want to escape the theater before they come up. But the premise is still very scary at least for those who were terrified by the first film. I left the theater with my nerves jangling, feeling very much like I did when I saw the original. This could have been a big joke, but a good deal of care was put into making this work because you know all eyes of the world were prepared to tear it apart on sight.
If you liked the first “Paranormal Activity,” I think you’ll like the sequel. For those of you who didn’t like it and can’t understand what the fuss was all about, don’t even bother.
I am proud to say that I didn’t make the same mistake of watching it before I went to bed like I did with the original (man that was dumb!). I saw it in the early afternoon when the sun was still out. It still freaked me out though. Going to sleep tonight will probably not be as easy as I think.
While we’re at it, STOP WITH THE DEMAND TO SEE IT CRAP!!! Paramount Pictures already booked the theaters in advance! Enough with trying to give us power we know we don’t have!
***½ out of ****