Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)
Directed by: Tod Williams
Starring: Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, Vivis, Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat
(out of 4)
Warning: Some slight spoilers ahead.
Paranormal Activity 2 comes courtesy of new writers and a new director, with Oren Peli’s role being limited to producer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it goes off in new directions. It takes the events of Paranormal Activity and builds a back-story around them – again featuring Katie (Katie Featherston) and her doomed boyfriend Micah (Micah Sloat), but keeping them in cameo roles. The action mainly centers on Katie’s sister Kristi and her family, starting about 60 days before the death of Micah (as a quick caption informs us). The idea is to help show us where Katie’s demon came from, and why it haunted her house, which makes Paranormal Activity 2 a prequel similar to Amityville II: The Possession (except for the ending few minutes, which jumps forward in time past the events of the first film). The rest of it is done in the same “found footage” style as Paranormal Activity – a twist on the Cinéma vérité – except this time around it has a few add-ons, as sequels tend to require. The additions, in this case, are multiple cameras, a dog, and a baby.
Kristi (Sprague Grayden), her hubby Dan (Brian Boland), teenage daughter Ali (Molly Ephraim), Spanish-speaking nanny Martine (Vivis), baby Hunter, and family German Shepherd Abby all live in a nice townhouse in the same neighborhood as Katie and Micah. After a break-in (where only a necklace – a gift from Katie – was stolen), the family decides to install multiple video cameras – in the living room, kitchen, baby’s room, and outside pool area. It is through the perspective of these cameras that we witness the action, and if something happens elsewhere, like Ali’s room or the downstairs basement, then you can bet that one of the characters will grab a miniature hand-held for us. Strange events occur – like the baby’s mobile moving a little bit by itself, kitchen pots falling off their rack, doors swinging shut, and the pool cleaner climbing out of the pool by itself. Most of the time, the family can’t be bothered to play back their DVR, but there’s a funny moment when they finally do watch a recording, just in time to see the pool cleaner do its special magic trick. Dan, being the skeptic, never treats anything he sees on the recordings with much seriousness, and at one point fires poor Martine for doing a purification ritual with sage incense (how silly and superstitious of her!). Dan will soon come to regret his decision, when later in the film an unseen entity drags poor Kristi down the stairs, into the basement, and possesses her.
Before we get to that, we must endure a lot of home movie footage of the family going about their day, or the daughter and her date having fun with the Ouija board, or constant security-cam shots of living room, pool, baby’s room, and back again. While the first film performs a slow burn rather well, this one seems to take a little too long before the family is put in any real danger. Most of the film is made up of jump scares which are usually loud bangs on the soundtrack, separated by some character moments and more security footage. One of these scares is a kitchen scene that recalls Poltergeist; it’s the best bit. Otherwise, these Boo! tactics aren’t particularly scary, especially if you have seen the first Paranormal Activity. The best use of sound has to be the “rumble” that builds up around any upcoming supernatural occurrences, which adds some uneasiness and anticipation. When things do finally get crazy towards the end, Dan grabs the hand-held and heads to the basement to do battle with the Kristi/Demon thing, but shaky-cam interferes and I wasn’t sure what the hell happened. He also makes a decision that is rather unethical, but does bring to mind that old Muslim saying that starts with the line “Me and my brother against my cousin”.
The problem, though, is that while the first movie was a novelty for me, this film merely offers more of the same, which comes across as a little stale. By using a mostly-well adjusted family as protagonists, it gives up the uncertainty and vulnerability that plagued Micah and Katie’s relationship. It does, however, tie in the plot strands of the first film in a clever manner – if you have been paying attention, though, the ending scenes will come as no surprise. Perhaps the most interesting thing to take away from Paranormal Activity 2 is the commentary on a modern family’s reaction to the omnipresent surveillance technology of the 21st century. Watch the adults who are so used to the all-seeing cameras that they forget about them – Dan can hardly be bothered to look at footage, and compare them to teenaged Ali’s acceptance of the idea that everything should be filmed at all times. Privacy in the Facebook age is not high priority; recording every event is no longer unnatural, but a natural (and expected) response. There’s a plot strand in Paranormal Activity 2 suggesting somebody’s great grandmother made a deal with the devil. If video cameras had existed back then, I highly doubt she would have filmed it.
- Bill Gordon