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Movie Review: Paranormal Activity 2

By Matthew Huntley

October 28, 2010

Two dogs and a baby? This has a chance to be the greatest YouTube video ever.

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Now this is a horror movie. Paranormal Activity 2 gives fans of the genre what they’ve long been waiting for - an experience that actually thrills and scares. Not since The Orphanage have I clenched my fists so tight or had such nervous energy in my stomach. Watching this movie is like walking through an effectively staged yet subtle haunted house, the kind where you step ever so slowly because no matter how much you anticipate something jumping out at you, it still manages to frighten you when it does. You feel scared, helpless and vulnerable, but you also have fun.

Of course, the only reason Paranormal Activity 2 was made in the first place was because its predecessor was such an unexpected hit, becoming one of the most profitable films in history on a budget-to-revenue basis. Naturally, the expectation for the follow-up is that it’s just a lame cash grab, and a cash grab though it may be, it is not lame. For a movie whose sole purpose is to scare us, it’s the real deal and the screenplay finds an interesting way to develop the existing story. Horror sequels are often bad because the filmmakers struggle to find innovative ways of building on the original premise. That’s not the case here.

Ironically enough, the movie takes place a few months before the events of the original, which, if you recall, centered on a young couple - Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) - who were haunted by a demonic presence in their home. Now the story follows Katie’s older sister, Kristi (Sprague Grayden), who, along with her husband Dan (Brian Boland) and step-daughter Ali (Molly Ephraim), grows suspicious of a supernatural force in her house. Once again, some unnerving activity takes place that isn’t immediately explainable - strange noises coming out of nowhere; the pool cleaner making its own way out of the pool; doors shutting on their own; and the family dog sensing danger. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, all this happens after Kristi and Dan bring home their newborn son.




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Like the original, the sequel is presented as found footage and although it’s unlikely the characters would record every scene we see in the film, we allow the movie its premise. It masks most of this by showing us the action from the point of view of security cameras around the house. Dan had these installed after a supposed break-in took place. It’s a contrived but fair set up.

I’ll not go into any more plot details since the element of surprise is crucial here, even though it’s not the plot that surprises us, but the presentation. The film is uncharacteristically patient for a horror movie, where nothing seems to happen for moments at a time. Later on, we realize the director, Tod Williams, is using that time to build tension and angst, which pay off mercilessly. So often in horror movies - too often, in fact - the startling moments are in our faces and we can see them coming a mile away. But Paranormal Activity 2 doesn’t make it so easy and the filmmakers choose to hold off as long as they can before they strike and it’s the right time to scare us. After that, they don’t stop. One continual sequence in the basement is so nerve-racking because the movie puts us in the middle of the action and we only see what the characters see (or don’t see). It’s intense and brutal - the kind of experience you can probably only have once.

Compared to the rest of the movie, the ending feels a bit tacked on and overly sensational, but as a whole, Paranormal Activity is about as frightening as it gets, purely on a horror level. I wasn’t necessarily looking for fully developed characters, a rich story or emotional investment. Once this movie set its tone, I was only looking to be scared, and no matter how manipulative it becomes, it gets the job done. If it’s a scary movie you want, this is it.


     


 
 

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