There are plenty of people who are hoping Paranormal Activity 2 will be completely separate and unique from the first film, and all of those people should probably skip over the sequel in theaters and wait to rent it. Youâ€™d be missing out though, because the second movie is easily better than the original. With Oren Peli handling just the character writing this time around, and Tod Williams taking his place as director, the result is an extension of the first story that sticks to the motto â€œIf itâ€™s not broke, donâ€™t fix it.â€
There are plenty of people who are hoping Paranormal Activity 2 will be completely separate and unique from the first film, and all of those people should probably skip over the sequel in theaters and wait to rent it. You’d be missing out though, because the second movie is easily better than the original. With Oren Peli handling just the character writing this time around, and Tod Williams taking his place as director, the result is an extension of the first story that sticks to the motto “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
Oren also had the help of Michael R. Perry for the screenplay, and it shows. While the first film wasn’t seriously flawed, it’s not hard to pick which movie has the better characters. Kristi (Sprague Grayden) is the sister of Katie (Katie Featherston) from the original, who shows up plenty of times in the sequel with and without her boyfriend Micah (Micah Sloat). Kristi and her husband Daniel (Brian Boland) just gave birth to Hunter, a charmingly adorable baby boy, and Dan already has a teenage daughter (Molly Ephraim) from his first marriage, which ended with the death of his first wife. Thankfully they rarely touch on this family dynamic, which means it came across as incredibly sincere the one time it was talked about explicitly, though it could easily be used to tie into a third film.
Both the lead characters are far more interesting this time around, and having a newborn baby in danger adds extra concern and anxiety that was never there before. Whereas the house in the first film felt empty and cold even from the start, the daughter and the family’s nanny help fill their equally large home with more variety of scenes and dialogue than was present last time. Having an eerie house from the start works, but having a warm family environment that slowly crumbles works better. It’s sad when a film like this can show home footage videos of the baby’s first experiences and come off as far more endearing than Life as We Know It, but that investment into getting to know the characters in full before any of the spookiness arrives is what helps elevate it so much. Adding a pet to the mix is another thing that I’m surprised the original didn’t think of doing.
Once the scary scenes begin, we also see new tricks that constantly out do the original. Instead of a single camera that walks around and is left on table edges overnight – which the daughter also offers the audience frequently – we have an entire security camera system rigged throughout the house this time. To start the paranoia simmering slowly, Paranormal Activity 2 has no problem with showing you tons of misleading footage. Spooky music will play at night as we watch several scenes come and go with nothing that jumps out at all. Besides making everyone incredibly nervous as the tension builds, it also has the interesting byproduct of the audience letting their mind play tricks on them as they start to point and scream at things that aren’t there.
Once the action finally picks up is one of the only points of the movie I have a problem with, but apparently I’m in the minority. It bothers me that the first few spooks are nothing more than a door opening or a toy in the baby’s room spinning slowly. It’s weak, yet the audience around me was filled with an “Oooooh, it’s moving! I get it! That means there’s a spirit!” It was odd how proud the audience felt for picking up on things, as if being the first one to ooh and ahh or gasp when something moved on the screen gained you audience cred.
Before long we start to know all the camera angles by heart, and then late in the movie a new angle is introduced and you’re instantly filled with dread as you know this new experience won’t be wasted. Your mind instantly understands that this scene won’t be one of the many uneventful misleading scenes. It’s the same effect that all horror movies have where you know something bad is coming, but it’s done in a refreshingly brand new style that only a film like this could do. Another old trick we see used in new ways is having a spooky scene interrupted by a friendly main character, and you jump at first thinking it’s a robber or ghost, but no, it’s just an unexpected entrance. Whereas 90% of all instances of this are filled with a purposefully restricting camera that makes it unfair for the audience, and then raises the pitch of the music as the camera bumps into the character, Paranormal Activity 2 instead just keeps the camera rolling from its one reference point. Instead of throwing the camera at a false intruder, having our eyes forced to be fixated on the false alarm makes for a much more nerve-racking two seconds of figuring things out.
Also worth mentioning is the one scene that had the balls to break the movie’s own Wes Craven style rules where the audience is safe during the day. Not only does it break this rule, but it teases you. The camera fixates on a scene longer than usual, and you start to dare the demon to try and scare you during the day. Just a little bit. Bring it. Let’s see what subtle scare tactic we’ll be faced with. Trust me, you won’t be prepared and while it’s purely cheap shock value, it sure as hell was the biggest scare I’ve had in theaters this year.
The story weaves in and out of the first film in a way that makes me think this was definitely the best possible way to follow-up the original. From here on out it runs the risk of becoming a LonelyGirl15 series that drags and overstays its welcome, but the sequel will most likely go on to be the film that defines the series. If there’s one to watch, it’s this one. Slowly showing us the events that led up to the first film and then quickly giving us a peek at the events that followed adds a good dose of nostalgia to the mix. Whereas we only saw the two characters in the first film deteriorate, we see a variety of emotional developments this time around, with the daughter consistently doing an amazing job, and the nanny’s plot twist being so entertaining that the entire audience even applauds at a twist later in the movie.
While the climax mimics REC’s ending with less success, it’s still yet another pillar of the film that far outreaches the original. Minute for minute, Paranormal Activity 2 surpasses the first film in almost every way. I’m glad I can say that this isn’t the end of the series without groaning, and I’d love to see it make more dents in Saw’s feckless armor this year.
Overall Score: 7.70 — Good. (7s are good, but not great. These films often have a stereotypical plot or are great movies that have a few minor flaws. Fans of this movie’s genre might love it, but others will still enjoy seeing it in theaters.)
In a genre that rarely has anything good to offer each year, and plenty of overrated titles in its past, Paranormal Activity 2 continues to embrace its genre in modern ways that don’t disappoint. It’s hard for me to think of a single thing the first one did better than this one.
Overall Score: 6.00 – Paranormal Activity 2 is a sequel that relies too heavily on copying its predecessor. Scary simply because it has scares in it, the originality and creativity of the original are gone and left behind with a bigger budget and lots of shaky cam. Read his full review here!
Overall Score: 6.40 – If Paranormal Activity 2 set out to just deliver the same movie with a different setting and cast, then it did its job. If you were a fan of the original, you’ll probably be a fan of this. However, if you expected more or wasn’t wowed by the first one, you’ll find yourself disappointed. If it were titled Paranormal Activity 1.5, I think everybody would feel better about it. Read his full review here!