Starring: Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat
“We just can’t let this affect us that much. If we do that, the terrorists win.” (Daniel, Paranormal Activity 2)
After the success of The Blair Witch Project, the inevitable sequel followed. Rather than sticking with what worked and going with another low-budget handheld camera effort, the filmmakers went with a big $15 million production that felt nothing like the original. It was a moderate success but most fans of the first film hated it (personally, I liked it but that’s for another review). No doubt with this in mind, the makers of Paranormal Activity instead decided if it wasn’t broke they shouldn’t try to fix it, and so Paranormal Activity 2 is more or less the same as the first movie.
Once again we’ve got a couple moving into a new home, and once again we’ve got the whole thing captured on home video cameras (with security cameras chucked into the mix too this time). Once again weird shit starts going down, and once again it seems clear that there’s some sort of demon terrorising them.
Unfortunately, Paranormal Activity 2 seems to lose something that the original had – the sense of intimacy that made it so powerful. Whereas the original film simply consisted of a couple moving in together for the first time, using a single store-bought camera to record the weird goings-on that have started to happen, this time so many new elements are introduced to try and add some variety. Instead though, they just make the situation more complicated.
This time, rather than just a couple, we’ve got a married couple moving to a new home. Plus their baby. Plus their their 14-year-old daughter from the husband’s previous marriage. Plus their dog. Plus their Spanish maid. Plus the house has loads of security cameras installed. Plus there’s now a big garden area with a swimming pool. Plus the couple from the original film are back (this is mainly a prequel), as it turns out Katie is the sister of the new female protagonist.
So now we’ve gone from a film that had two characters and one handheld camera to a film that has eight characters, one handheld camera and a house full of security cameras. While the film manages to do a good job of keeping the same atmosphere as the original to a degree, ultimately there’s just too much information for the audience to keep track of, meaning there’s too much time spent wondering where everyone is rather than looking out for the tiny, subtle details that made the original so terrifying.
There’s no longer a key area in the house, an iconic shot that strikes fear into the audience every time they see it. The original had the famous shot of the bedroom, with the night-vision cam overlooking the entire room and just glimpsing the hallway, where the audience were subconsciously guided to fix their eyes firmly each time they heard footsteps coming up the stairs. It was clear that any time we saw the bedroom there could be trouble. This time we could expecting it from the baby’s room one minute, the living room the next, the couple’s room the next, the front garden the next and the pool area the next. There’s even some sort of creepy area in the basement that the dog keeps trying to reach. There’s too much to keep an eye on.
It also oddly doesn’t seem quite as shocking, even though it throws more at you than the original film. While the first 50 minutes of the sequel pass without much incident, once it gets going you’ve got people getting dragged down stairs, the baby being dragged out his crib, the dog getting attacked, a ridiculous shaky-cam scene in the basement reminiscent of .REC and a big scare moment involving kitchen drawers and cupboards. Yet despite all this I managed to sleep soundly at night after watching it, which certainly wasn’t the case with the original.
The pacing’ s just wrong, too. As I said above, nothing really interesting starts to happen until nearly an hour into the film. It’s obviously trying to emulate the structure of the original film by starting off with peaceful nights and slowly ramping up the tension night by night, but it takes things too far by offering too little for too long. By the time you’ve seen the same still shot of the pool for the eighth time it slowly begins to dawn on you that there’s perhaps a lot of padding taking place under the pretence of tension-building.
This suspicion is confirmed when ultimately nothing happens in the pool, other than a hokey “revelation” that the pool cleaner equipment slides out the pool each night. Even then we don’t get to witness it for ourselves as it happens, which is sort of the whole point of the film – instead we have to watch it over the shoulders of the characters as they check back the security footage.
If nothing else, Paranormal Activity 2 is proof that its predecessor was just the perfect blend of shocks and subtlety. Much like a game of Buckaroo, by trying to add too many things to the mix it just ends up all over the place. Despite an interesting final ten minutes, which act as both a prologue and epilogue to the original film, this is a shadow of the first Paranormal Activity. And just a normal shadow, not a creepy demon shadow.
WHERE CAN I SEE IT?
Paranormal Activity 2 is out on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK. You can get the DVD here or get the Blu-ray (which also comes with a DVD version and digital copy) here. As with the original, the handheld stuff is filmed on an HD camcorder so the Blu-ray really does make a difference at times, but the introduction of blurry security camera footage makes it a little less essential. You can also get it on the US Netflix library, which you can access in the UK by using the DNS trick.
If you enjoyed this review and would like to read more, here’s a complete list of reviews on That Was A Bit Mental complete with brief descriptions. Some of them even have jokes about Hull in them.