Minimalist mainstream horror is back as Paramount Pictures presents a second installment of the enormously successful Paranormal Activity. The latest film was made on a budget of less than $3 million and it consists of no recognizable faces besides the couple who dominated the action in the first film. The gimmick has not worn off yet as a second installment of the film is sure to make any audience member jump, scream, and meddle not with evil spirits.
The sound and lights show that Oren Peli mastered in Paranormal Activity is once again on display in Paranormal Activity 2, although this time under the direction of Tod Williams. This time around the stakes are raised by the presence of a baby, but the connection to the film is diminished by less likable characters and a more absurd story. In Paranormal Activity 2 there are a lot of scares, but that is just about it.
Although the film is titled like a sequel, it is actually a prequel with the events of the film beginning a month before the events of the first film. Instead of focusing on Katie and her ghost-hunting boyfriend Micah, this film centers on Katieâ€™s sister Kristi who has just welcomed home newborn son Hunter along with her husband Dan. Dan has a teenage daughter, Ali, from a previous marriage and the four of them live in a well-furnished house in what appears to be an affluent suburb of San Diego. Soon after the arrival of Hunter, their house gets broken into and trashed, inspiring them to set up a series of surveillance cameras to detect intruders. The story is told through the perspective of the surveillance cameras and the hand held video that the family captures.
Director Tod Williams proves to be a master of timing. Unlike many horror movies that build up the anticipation so much that moments of fear do not feel genuinely terrifying, Williams distracts you with a feeling of security before the crash, causing many audience members to bounce from their seats. On a purely visceral level the film does exactly what it intends to do and it is as entertaining to turn around and watch the audience reaction as it is to watch the movie.
However, this film did not feel as enjoyable as the first. There were no characters that were as obnoxiously likable as the boyish Micah who makes sure to grab a video camera before checking to see why his girlfriend screamed. This time there was more of a feeling of isolation as none of the relationships within this film really felt that close, except possibly Kristi with her son Hunter. The result was an unintended apathy towards the characters as it feels more appropriate to cheer on the next fright, rather than cheer for the family to succeed.
There was also a problem with believability this time around. When using the â€œfound footageâ€ technique to present a movie there has to be a clear motivation for why the character is holding a camera and why they feel it appropriate to be filming at that moment and time. A majority of the action is viewed through security cameras, but when the characters pick up the hand held to chase the spirit or to film a conversation it was hard to believe that any logical human would actually do that. For instance we see candid conversations between NAME and Katie, which reveals an important aspect of their past. However, there is no logical reason for the camera to be rolling nor for it to be steadily focused on Katie while she delivers her stern speech of caution.
The performances all across the board were solid from the unknown cast. The movie starts and ends without credits so the full names of the performers is unknown, but there were definitely some star-making turns, particularly from the teenage Ali who excels as the energetic and frightened girl who comes across as the only empathetic character in the film.
Bottom Line: If you are looking for cheap scares this Halloween, there is no better source than Paranormal Activity 2, but donâ€™t expect anything beyond that.