Scary movies are the bane of my existence. There, I said it – the first step is to admit I have a problem. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a total manly man, but all of us have our weaknesses. About a year ago, a friend of mine invited me to an early screening of Paranormal Activity. With little to no information to go on beyond the title (and a slight knowledge of paranormal activities), I figured a free movie would be worth pooping my pants out of terror.
And poop my pants, I did. Paranormal Activity was more than another, gore-filled, Saw-like horror film. Instead of showing characters being disembodied or tortured in “creative” ways, Paranormal Activity was built around building suspense in its viewers, revealing the source of strife slowly through the film’s progression. In essence, Paranormal Activity 2 follows the same formula. But is it enough to separate itself from the original?
Paranormal Activity 2 is a bookend to the original, acting as both a prequel and sequel, allowing the re-introduction of the original’s two stars, Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat). However, the real focus is on Katie’s sister’s family: Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and Daniel (Brian Boland), the focal couple in the film, Ali (Molly Ephraim), Daniel’s teenage daughter from a previous marriage, and Hunter, the couple’s baby boy. Following a purported break-in, Daniel has security cameras installed throughout the house to catch any potential intruders. As time goes on, shenanigans get crazier, and you suddenly find yourself knee-deep in a horror film.
The installation of the security cameras serves as both a plot point and a justification for a multiple-camera approach, although the movie still occasionally utilizes first-person camera shots as in the original. The shift towards multiple angles helps to expand the scope of the film’s horror scenes. Why focus on one room when you can focus on the whole house?! However, like the original, the best scenes are when the actors take control. I may or may not have a strong bias towards hand-held shots, but it’s hard to disagree with the effect they have on movies, especially in the horror genre. The shaking and kinetic nature of hand-held cameras inserts the viewers directly into the scene.
One major change for Paranormal Activity 2 is the director, Tod Williams (The Door in the Floor), taking over the reins from the original’s Oren Peli, who serves as an executive producer. Williams helps pace the pre-sequel better than the original, not taking nearly as long to get to the action as the original did. However, if you don’t stay for the credits or research the movie, you won’t know the difference. And that’s one of the biggest problems I have with the movie.
For better or worse, Paranormal Activity 2 is more of the same. The old adage “Don’t fix what isn’t broken” must have been some sort of running theme for Williams and screenwriter Michael R. Perry. The movie follows the ALMOST EXACT SAME formula Paranormal Activity set. Super serious, haunted female? Check. Reluctant, male comedic foil? Check. Gradual build-up of horror resulting in an elongated climactic action scene? Check. Even with the addition of another main character and new antagonistic target, the film ultimately rests on the laurels laid down by its precursor. Furthermore, the movie is still terribly imbalanced. You know shenanigans are gonna hit the fan the moment nightfall comes just as the same way you cherish the daytime scenes. Sure, there are scary moments during the daytime, but they’re few and far apart.
Despite not upping the level of horror from the first movie, Paranormal Activity 2 accomplishes its overall goal of delivering scares. I cringed. I pushed myself as far back into my seat as I could. I coughed up my Icee in reaction to a tense moment when I thought I was in the clear (Sorry Curtis). Obviously, tolerance to horror films is different from person to person, but there are scenes that are guaranteed to garner a reaction from everybody in the theater.
Overall Score: 6.40– Okay. (6s are just okay. These movies usually have many flaws, didn’t try to do anything special, or were poorly executed. Some will still love 6s, but most prefer to just rent them. Watch more trailers and read more reviews before you decide.)
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.