Saturday, October 29, 2011

Paranormal Activity 2

Just over a year ago, I reviewed the original Paranormal Activity; I thought it was a pretty cool flick, although definitely not for all horror tastes.  When I heard that they were making a sequel, I felt it was a little dubious.  What more was there to say about that story?  Wouldn't it be a little forced to get another group of people to film demon/spirit activity in their home?  If absolutely nothing else, the screenwriters did a good job creating a story that makes sense in the bigger picture and fits in nicely with the first film.

Paranormal Activity 2 is actually not entirely a sequel; it spends most of its running time as a prequel, and then provides more closure on the original film.  That's a novel approach, I'll admit.  This time around, the story follows the family of Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and Daniel Rey (Brian Boland), which includes Kristi's step-daughter, Ali (Molly Ephraim), and their baby boy, Hunter.
Bad news, kid.  Something is obviously going to happen to your parents.
Weird stuff had been happening in the Rey household for a while --- the pool cleaner would magically leave the pool every night, doors would open or close on their own, pots would fall from their kitchen hooks, etc. --- but one day they came home to a ransacked house.  Oddly enough, nothing of value was taken.  Being an obviously wealthy guy, Daniel pays to have security cameras set up in the house.  No further "break-ins" happen, but the weird shit continues.  At first, it is easy to ignore these titular acts, but they get harder to rationalize as time goes on and the actions get more violent.  By the time the family has bought into the idea of a demon spirit terrorizing their home, it's almost too late.  What do you do if a demon won't leave you alone?  There really doesn't appear to be a good answer to that.
Peeing in the pool is not a solution

So how does this tie into the first film?  Well, Kristi is the sister of Katie from the original movie.  Katie and her boyfriend, the obnoxious Micah, have a few scenes in this movie, including a stretch where the first couple of minutes from Paranormal Activity are actually spliced into Paranormal Activity 2.  Basically, this story shows how the demon wound up terrorizing Katie and Micah and what happened next.  That's a solid concept, right?  Well, I thought so.

I also liked the characters in Paranormal Activity 2 better than in the original.  Sure, Daniel is a bit of a jackass, but he's not constantly annoying like Micah.  I also liked the addition of a third character to the mix, even if Ali was far too pleasant around her parents to be believed.  The acting was pretty decent all around, but this type of movie doesn't spend much time with the acting, so neither will I.
A teenager that likes being filmed by her father?  Fiction!

With an interesting premise and pretty likable characters, it would seem that Paranormal Activity 2 would be as good or better than the first movie.  It is not.

For starters, this film operates with the understanding that it is just assembled from "found" footage, taken from security cameras and home videos.  In the first film, there was a reason for them to be videotaping everything; well, two reasons: Micah was an annoying jackass and he wanted to capture some X-Files moments on tape.  There is absolutely no reason the Rey family should record themselves this much.  None.  Even the most YouTube-ing tween doesn't record themselves answering the front door or doing internet research.  It just feels so unnatural for these people to be videotaping stressful, emotional conversations that it ruins my suspension of disbelief.  And what is wrong with this family?  When you're waiting for nothing to happen, they are spending their free time...reading?  Really?  In America?  An entire family?  I love to read, but...come on, let's be realistic and show that 60" flat screen being used more than once a month.

The other problem is with the film style.  Following up and tying into a movie that had a very distinctive look, it is no surprise that Paranormal Activity 2 mimics a lot of the visuals from Paranormal Activity.
You can tell it's the sequel because it has a crib
I'm fine with that.  What I can't stand is the way this film misuses this style.  The first film worked so well because it fast-forwarded through the boring parts and slowed down only when some creepy stuff was about to go down, which caught my attention and had me ready to be startled.  This film doesn't do that (except once, I think).  It might feel like nothing is happening on camera, and that is because it is not.  The first hour of this movie positively drags and there is only one decent-sized startling scare in that entire time.

I don't know what director Tod Williams was thinking.  The pace was so awful in this movie that I have a hard time admitting that the last twenty minutes are fairly cool.  Since the actors just have to act like normal folks and the film style is dictated by the format, Williams should have been able to focus on making this as tense as possible.  Instead, he opted to...well, I'm not exactly sure what he did instead.  All I know is that this is nowhere near as freaky as it should be.
This is about as much action as you'll get in PA2

It's all well and good to criticize a movie, but could I have done any better?  Absolutely.  There is a point where Daniel turns the proverbial corner and decides to believe in demons.  How do you protect your family from such a threat?  The solution that he comes with (SPOILER ALERT: passing the demon on to Kristi's unsuspecting sister, Katie, ensuring her death) is horrifying enough to warrant being the plot device for an entire film.  Here, it takes less than three minutes.  If they cut twenty minutes of nothing happening from the first two-thirds of the movie, this soul-wrenching, morally destitute decision would have had the time and space to breathe and draw the audience in.  Instead, we get an hour of doors opening slightly and twenty minutes of action that assumes that the audience saw the first film --- otherwise, the ending is pretty awful.  And if you saw the original ending of the first film (not the theatrical one), it is an impossible ending.  I was encouraged by a lot of things in this movie, but it buckled under the pressure to be the same (but different) from the more successful original.  It's not awful, but it was a boring disappointment for me.

One more note: I have to admit, using the phrase "Release the Kraken" as a sexual metaphor is awesome.  That is all.


  1. 'It might feel like nothing is happening on camera, and that is because it is not. The first hour of this movie positively drags' I'd say exactly the same goes for the third in the series too. Nice review!

  2. Good to know. I guess I won't be looking forward to that one to redeem the series. Too bad.