Screen Rant's Vic Holtreman Reviews Paranormal Activity 2
The first Paranormal Activity was a seemingly simple little movie made for $11,000, and then by some miracle spared a big budget remake and released a year ago as made (with a slight change to the original ending). It was one of those movies that people either "got" and loved, or didn't, and hated.
It went on to make almost $200 million worldwide.
As you can imagine, Paramount (which distributed the first film with a clever "Demand It" viral campaign) figured this was ripe for a sequel - and much like the Saw franchise (actually it's the only thing it has in common with that series of films) they cranked a second film out for release a year after the first.
So there are a a couple of questions:
- Is this one as good as, better than, or worse than the first?
- Will your enjoyment of this one depend on how you felt about the first one?
To the first question I will say that I believe this film is better than the first one - a tough thing to pull off considering that the "gimmick" of the first is already known. To the second I'll say that even if you weren't a fan of the first one, you might still like this second film.
If you thought that this film will be completely disconnected from the first, you'd be wrong - it's actually (kind of) a prequel (mostly), and ties into and dovetails with the last film quite nicely. It starts out two months before the first film - with Katie's sister, brother in law, baby nephew and teenage step-niece the focus.
The excuse this time around for the tons of videotaping going on (before anything spooky happens) is the arrival of their newborn son, Hunter. The camcorder is on constantly - including the day they come home to find their home completely trashed. Every room has been essentially turned upside down with everything tossed about - except for Hunter's bedroom. And nothing has been stolen.
This prompts the installation of a full-on security system, including indoor and outdoor cameras with motion detectors. We soon become very familiar with the point of view of the five cameras placed around the house: One overlooking the pool, two in the kitchen, one in the entryway and one in the baby's room. These give us not only an anchor (every night we cycle through all five) but also give us a respite from the prospect of an entire film shot in shaky-cam.
As in the first film, nothing really major happens for a long time and the fun/scariness of it is the dread and anticipation of when something will finally happen... and what that something might be. Things start off in a very subtle way, and you'll find yourself scanning all four corners of the screen in the security camera shots trying to get the jump on whatever may be about to scare you.
As in the first film, the husband is a skeptic - writing off his wife's descriptions of what happened with rational explanations. Even with the recorded video footage, he writes things off to the wind slamming a door closed, or his wife not placing a pan quite correctly on a kitchen hook, causing it to fall. At first the daughter thinks it would be cool to have a ghost haunting their home, but soon enough she comes to her stepmother's side and they both have to convince the man of the house they're not crazy.
Paranormal Activity 2 is a second film that manages to take what made the first film interesting, and expand and intensify it. The constant cycling through the video camera shots every night with nothing happening for the most part is both reassuring and unnerving at the same time. You know eventually you'll see SOMETHING happen in one of those shots every time the cycle starts - and you get to a point where you're feeling a combination of being a bit bored... but relieved that nothing happened.
For me, the very things that people didn't like about the first one (and might not like about this one) are things that are a plus: The use of suspense and dread instead of gore and cheap jump scares (there's not a cat to jump into the shot and screech anywhere to be seen). The fact that it's actually scarier to imagine what might be behind a door than to actually be shown it. The lack of manipulative music, "cool" editing techniques, etc. The reality-based look and approach to the whole thing just makes it hit that much closer to home - and when I say "home" I mean it. Late at night, alone, only one light on. This movie, like the first one, sticks with you in those late moments just before you get ready to turn in.
Director Tod Williams and writer Michael R. Perry (with input from Oren Peli, the fellow who wrote, directed and produced the first one) had a heck of a job ahead of them trying to do a follow up to a seemingly one-shot film like Paranormal Activity - but I think they did a fine job of it. The actors are believable and there are actually quite a few moments of laugh out loud humor from the dad/husband, who plays a bit of the comedian in his family (reminded me of myself in that regard).
As with the first, I'm confused at the decision to go for the R rating here. It's mainly for language, which could have been easily eliminated. I'm not a big fan of PG-13 horror movies or slimming down an R to squeak under the PG-13 bar, but in a film like this where it's all atmosphere and suspense (with some violence, yes) it seems like they made have made more money by not going the R route. Maybe they were shooting for that R rating horror movie "street cred?"
There are probably a good half-dozen real scares in the movie, and if I have one complaint it's that overall it feels like an interesting journey that doesn't end up anywhere... interesting. Most of the film goes by before it really kicks into gear, and then it's over pretty quickly. If we were on a 10 scale here I'd probably have gone 7.5/10.
In the end, it delivers dread, makes you nervous and scares you, and what more can you ask from a horror movie? Too bad that it really leaves you wanting more when the credits start to roll.
Here's the trailer for Paranormal Activity 2:
If you want to talk about details of the film without worrying about spoiling it for others, head on over to our Paranormal Activity 2 spoilers discussion.