Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Tod Williams
Writer: Michael R. Perry, Christopher Landon, Tom Pabst
Producer: Jason Blum, Oren Peli
Stars: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, Sprague Grayden
The demon that would later haunt Katie Featherston comes after her sister Kristi when she brings home a newborn baby boy.
Even though its timeline begins before the events of the first movie, “Paranormal Activity 2” is not entirely a prequel. It would be more accurate to christen it as a “paralleloquel” since it bookends the original and has a final act operating in tandem with its predecessor’s conclusion.
Familiarity with PA1 is not a requirement to be affected by PA2’s method of delivering chills, although it will add context to the relationships and help to make sense of the ending. As a “found footage” horror movie, “Paranormal Activity” has enough of its own going on to be taken as a standalone experience.
Before the family demon can begin haunting Micah and Katie over in San Diego, it whets its appetite by first taking on Katie’s younger sister Kristi Rey in nearby Carlsbad. Kristi welcomes newborn son Hunter to the home she shares with husband Daniel and daughter Ali, but celebrating the new addition to the household is forced into a temporary hold.
Roughly two months before Micah and Katie would deal with their own invisible intruder, the Rey family comes home one afternoon to find their house ransacked. Daniel takes the opportunity to outfit the home with a half dozen surveillance cameras and the family is now primed to capture any unexpected activity that may occur 24/7. As the series title indicates, the activity recorded ends up being of the paranormal variety.
The usual “found footage” formula, the bulk of which can be credited to or blamed on the first “Paranormal Activity” for cementing in stone, is in full swing. Casual cast introductions meant to establish sympathy/empathy lead into a hill and valley tempo of gradually escalating tension before breaking into a full sprint for the finale.
The Rey family is relatable enough as the centerpiece. Actress Sprague Grayden physically resembles what a Katie Featherston sister probably looks like and comes with a similar “girl next door” charm. Daughter Ali has a playful relationship with Spanish-speaking nanny Martine and only enough teenage huff and puff to keep her in the realm of extremely personable. Even the way they handle the initial break-in with disappointment that melts into upbeat humor, rather than hotheaded anger and woe-is-us attitudes, casts everyone in a positive light.
Taking the reins from Micah as the resident scoffing skeptic is Kristi’s husband Daniel. Daniel is nowhere near as irksome as Micah, but like his brother-in-law, he has a thankless role. As the person shutting everyone up about ghosts and haunted houses, the audience cannot help but view him as hopeless, since no one would be watching the movie if he was not dead wrong.
The timeline is not the only thing paralleling the first movie. The structure does, too. The first offscreen scream that made the camera come running in PA1 was Katie reacting to a harmless spider. PA2 tries the same trick, except this time the fuss is over an odorous surprise someone left in the toilet. PA2 retreads so much of the same ground as the first one, including Ouija boards, Internet demonology research, mysterious trances and bite marks, etc., that the play-it-safe approach gives off the scent of having little new material to offer.
To give the film a longer leash with creative options, PA2 ups the ante in the number of available cameras. The jump from PA1’s single camera to PA2’s seven (six surveillance feeds and one handheld) turns out to not be an improvement.
Every time a “Night #XX” placard comes onscreen, the cameras cycle through the same pattern of six security feeds, whether anything is happening in them or not. Front door – Pool – Kitchen – Living Room – Staircase – Nursery. By the time the film makes it to “Night #19,” the rotation becomes so redundant that it inspires audible sighs stemming from the knowledge that several shots of nothingness are about to eat up the runtime.
The repeated sequence would make sense if the six cameras were on a timed rotation, but that is not the case. This is footage recovered after “actual” events, after all. And the security system records all of the camera views simultaneously. In the movie’s fiction, this means that whoever assembled these clips could have easily trimmed all those useless shots of the pool cleaner floating in the water.
Worse than including filler footage is that the film cheats when action finally does take place. In one scene, the evil presence pulls the baby from his crib and guides him to the basement. How the little one made it out of the crib and down the stairs remains a complete mystery however, because the movie nonsensically cuts to an empty kitchen instead of showing the event. The goal of baffling the audience in such an instant is partially understandable, but it undercuts any semblance of authenticity regarding the idea of recovered videotape.
The benefit of PA1 having only one camera is that it confined the activity on a smaller scale and provided a claustrophobic feel. Seemingly innocuous things like moving doors and footprints in talcum powder took on sinister tones because they occurred in the same space where Micah and Katie were sleeping unaware. When a pot falls in the kitchen or the cleaner jumps from the pool in PA2, the scare factor is absent since no one is nearby when it happens. PA2 misses out on creating the same sense of danger as the first movie.
Audiences really responded to the creaking doors and slow build anticipation that “Paranormal Activity” delivered. “Paranormal Activity 2” aims more towards loud bangs and alarming thuds to make the audience jump. But without the creeping dread, they end up being empty frights.
This key difference in how the two movies go about their scares is why many who enjoyed the first did not respond to the second, and vice versa. PA1 worked on the mind in a way that PA2 does not. Remove PA2 from its connection to the “Paranormal Activity” mythology and consider it as simply another “found footage” horror movie. Aside from its franchise association, there is nothing in “Paranormal Activity 2” that is not readily available in dozens of similar, and better, entries in the same sub-genre.
Review Score: 55