*This Review assumes you are familiar with Paranormal Activity. When considering our review, please note that we are fans of the first film.-Jenny Dreadful*
In an interesting twist on the sequel format, Paranormal Activity 2 takes place before and during the events of the previous film. A sort of prequel and “meanwhile” that combines the movies together into one large story. Katie and Micah make a return appearance and bookend the events that haunt the film’s family. Here’s a synopsis:
Dan and Kristi Rey bring their infant son, Hunter, home from the hospital to introduce him to the family: Dan’s daughter, Ali, Kristi’s sister, Katie, and her fiance, Micah. After Hunter turns one, there is a mysterious break-in in which the house is vandalized but little is stolen. Dan has a set of security cameras installed that monitor and record the house inside and out. Soon, the family begins to experience ghostly happenings that can be confirmed by the video recordings. Kristi feels that she and baby Hunter are being threatened by a familiar malevolent force. One that haunted her and Katie when she was a child.
Our group’s rating average is 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Would We Recommend?
The film may be more frightening for some viewers because of the change in the nature of the ghostly threat. This is the story of a family and the infant son is the target of the malevolent spirit. A child in peril will push buttons with a more mature audience. Ali is a more traditional touchstone for horror films as the teenage girl protagonist facing the ghostly evil. She starts as just another family member, but becomes the focal character as the film goes on.
Overall, these changes may broaden the film’s appeal and draw in new audience. A possible caveat is the film’s close ties to the original, especially in the last scenes, might mean a viewer not already familiar with the original could be confused by the sudden end.
New scares. While the majority of frights still come from nighttime footage of unsettling poltergeist activity, there are a few departures from this formula that hit hard and really put the audience on edge. Like most other scenes in the film, the audience is waiting for the hammer to fall, but the times when bad things happen, even during the day, are unusual for the films.
In addition to the handheld video footage, six different security cameras in and around the house are also edited together. Rather than a couple and their occasional visitor, the cast for this film includes the nuclear family, their visiting relatives, housekeeper and dog. More characters and more cameras means that the audience is shown many different angles, both literally and figuratively, on the events of the film and this dilutes the focus that the first film had. The claustrophobia and limited field of view that were an asset to the scares of the first film have been lost in scenes in which camera angles are edited together to track events from one place to another.
Many of the frights from the original film are reused in Paranormal Activity 2, right down to the sub-sonic audio rumble that starts before every poltergeist scare. While the repetition of these horror gags from the first film might be a way to cement their attachment; having the evil spirits employ the same modus operandi from one haunting to the next, they are not as well handled in this film. One comparison in particular stands out: In the first film, Katie is pulled out of her room and down a hallway, out of shot of the one camera. The audience must stare after her and listen to the sound of her struggles, straining to see her come back into shot. In Paranormal Activity 2, Kristi is attacked in a similar way and is dragged from the baby’s room by an unseen attacker. However, with the inclusion of the other cameras, the audience sees her pulled from the room, down a flight of stairs and through the kitchen. While it was an opportunity to showcase the bigger effects budget, tripling the length of the ghost attack and showing more detail proves that the less-is-more approach of the first film carries more weight.
It’s interesting to note that the Paranormal Activity films are not really about the people. These films are about creating supposedly real world scares and there is no time spent on character growth, moments of introspection or personal discovery that you might find in other horror films. Actor’s performances are serviceable as realistic responses to bizarre happenings, but there is no real human drama in these films. Characters do not develop so much as they simply react.
Also, security cameras don’t record sound. I’m just sayin’
Crowbait: I do love it when a film really gets under an audience’s skin. I don’t even mind the clucking of terrified teens trying to cover up their fear because it just lets me know that the movie is working. Even if the scares are recycled sometimes and even if they are telegraphed, everyone shuts up and stares straight ahead once those night vision cameras switch on and the bass starts rumbling.
I always figured that the backlash against the first film; complaints that it wasn’t scary, were a great example of grandstanding by people who downloaded the film off the internet and watched it on their computer screen on a lazy Saturday afternoon. If you’re not going to make the effort to enjoy a horror film as it’s meant to be seen, then don’t bother telling me about it.
StayFrosty: I think the director did the film a serious disservice by recycling the scares from Paranormal Activity. The scenes that utilize new scares or don’t use the subsonic musical cues are the most effective, and when those happen, the movie shines. These successful and frightening scenes serve to undermine the repeated scares even more. It confuses me – why use the same scares? And not even the same type, but the same exact ones?
Also, I felt that this film was a little uneven in its build to the end. One of the more overt supernatural scares happens pretty early in the film and after that, the more subtle things seem out of place. If you have revealed the source of the horror and then try to be mysterious about it again, it really doesn’t work. Plot-wise, I think making the story revolve around a child will hit home for many viewers, but I think the filmmaker strays from this idea to spend more time with the teenage daughter and her search for the source of the haunting. Both ideas are interesting, but trying to put them together into one film takes too much time away from both plots, rendering them both less effective.
I also had some trouble with the scenes in the trailer that aren’t actually in the movie, but Jenny Dreadful addresses that quite nicely below. In the end, this was a disappointment for me.
Jenny Dreadful: I liked the film and I agree with most of the review above. With that said, it was a big disappointment for me. The marketing team lied to me. There are at least 4 scenes from the official trailers and teasers that aren’t actually in the film. Yes, I know that’s common, but this was prominent footage. I can’t find any official word on whether the scenes were “red herrings” or material left on the cutting room floor. Either way, congrats, Paramount, for your excellent marketing campaign. You tricked me into buying a ticket for a movie that was more boring than advertised. Sorry, I know I’m being nasty. It’s hard for me to appreciate this film because it didn’t deliver what I’d been anticipating for months. The missing elements really pushed my buttons.
Some more random thoughts: As mentioned, there were 2 or 3 VERY solid new scares. The characters were also well written and acted. It was much harder for me to relate to the family, however, because of their upper class home and lifestyle. Katie and Micah didn’t exactly come across as poor, but I think it was easier for your average American to step into their shoes. (A must in this filming style) In this time of economic hardship, it’s an interesting choice to ask the audience to identify with people wealthy enough to own such an upscale home and employ a housekeeper.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test?
Yes, we’re happy to report that the film passes on more than one occasion.
Jenny Dreadful: So that’s our review! Now that you know how we feel about this film, it’s time to ask you a question. We already know there’s a 3rd film being made in Japan. Will a fourth be coming back to haunt us next Halloween? We suspect so. How do you feel about the possibility that Paranormal Activity will become the new Saw?