Paranormal Activity 2 interweaves characters and scenarios from the first film into its story and does so in a surprisingly organic way. The original is almost required viewing before seeing this one, but if you worry the freshness of the first movie might wear off this time around, allow me to put your mind at ease. This sequel is perhaps more terrifying and suspenseful than the original, and establishes itself as a solid entry into a horror genre and all but assures we’ll be seeing more Paranormal Activity with every Halloween to come in the next couple of years.
Set three months before the hauntings of the Katie and Micah, this story revolves around Kristi, Katie’s sister. Kristi gets a video camera to document the early days of her newborn son, Hunter. Her husband Dan and stepdaughter Alli also live in the house, and the first half hour of the movie gives us a look into their daily lives and their family dynamic. But things can’t stay this good for long. Strange things start happening, and soon Kristi wonders if it has something to do with her and Katie’s childhood dealings with the supernatural. Katie and Micah pop in and out of the story, trying to console Kristi and her family about the weird happenings in their house.
The biggest surprise for me was the movie doesn’t feel rushed or like a blatant cash grab. The filmmakers have automatically increased the stakes for the audience, manipulating our feelings with the involvement of a child and a dog. But it never feels forced; the story always comes first (and it’s actually a terrific story), tying in events and characters from the first film and adding to the mythology of this franchise. I’d argue that the tension is higher in this film – not only because of the kid and the dog, but because of the camera work. Instead of a tripod recording their sleep, Kristi’s family installs security cameras in multiple areas of the house. The structure of the movie plays on the same formula as the original, meaning events during the day are captured via handheld camera and when night comes, they switch to the security feed. And because of the multiple possibilities at night from the various camera angles they have set up, the tension becomes more palpable. The suspense is ramped up with each cut from one night vision shot to the next, because we never know exactly where, how, or when the spirit will strike.
It’s rare that I find a film that I cannot watch because of how tense it is, but these movies get me to a point where I can’t watch them like normal movies. I have to concentrate on the ticking clock in the bottom right corner of the screen and rely on my peripheral vision to alert me to any weird stuff happening in the middle. Sure, there are some loud jump scares that would probably frighten anyone based on volume levels alone, but there are also some genuinely creepy moments mixed in that, combined with the documentary style of the movie, leave the audience not ever questioning the authenticity of the movie itself, but with the uneasy feeling that events like these might be possible. Every cut is designed to heighten suspense, and every angle is chosen to get you on the edge of your seat.
My only real complaint with the film is a small one, but I think it compromises the integrity of both movies. In this film, Katie and Micah have conversations about the hauntings with Kristi and her family, and since this is technically a prequel, they would have to remember these conversations in the first film. It’s been a year since I’ve seen Paranormal Activity, but I remember Micah being very taken aback with the suggestion that the house could be haunted; if you look at the events in sequence, Micah shouldn’t be that surprised considering he and Katie just had conversations about a haunted house not far from their own and involving Katie’s own family. That was all – just a continuity issue. If you can get past that (and you dug the first film), then you’ll certainly be OK with this one.
SPOILER ALERT FOR BOTH PARANORMAL ACTIVITY FILMS
My favorite scene in this film was the one where Dan and Alli make the decision to spread the curse to Katie. The acting was great all around: the questioning innocent daughter forced to live with this decision for the rest of her life, and the father looking out for the interests of his own immediate family. Of course, he meets his untimely end quickly afterward, but the daughter is left with the aftermath of this entire scenario and I’m guessing we haven’t seen the end of her in this series.
Paranormal Activity 2 is the most effective horror thriller I’ve seen in a year, and I’m cautiously optimistic about the future of this franchise. This movie certainly won’t make it on my year end top ten list, but if I were to rank theatrical experiences, this one would be pretty high up there. Until next time…