When PARANORMAL ACTIVITY from word-of-mouth sleeper to box office blockbuster (earning nearly $195 million worldwide from a budget of, ahem, $11,000), it became one of the hottest horror properties in decades. Only a year later, and a week before Halloween, Paramount Pictures has released the long-awaited PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2, destined to make the people behind it filthy rich. But impressive as it is that PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 manages to be both a prequel and a sequel all in one, it should surprise no one who saw the first Paranormal Activity that number 2 is simply a lesser clone, filled with cheaper gags on a paradoxically higher budget.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 takes place about two months before the “true events” of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, and in the same bloodline. Kristi Rey, sister of the first film’s Katie, has just given birth to a little boy named Hunter, and we’re introduced to the rest of the family in an impressively informal fashion. Kristi is married to big, kind, rich Dan, whose daughter Ali loves her stepmother but misses her own dead mother enough to believe in ghosts even before the horrific events start. The Rey home is a large one, replete with an ethnic (and therefore superstitious) nanny, a beautifully trained dog, and enough space to install 6 security cameras all around the house after returning to find the home wrecked, despite all the doors being locked. It is with these security cameras that the “forces that be” are captured doing crazy things: playing with children’s toys, tossing pool cleaners onto the ground, and turning off lights. Warning: review only gets scarier.
Hunter, we learn, is the major target of the spirit haunting the Reys (and subsequently the Sloats), and his role in the film is to cry, and scream, and evoke the sympathy of every audience member that was ever a child. To see a horror film in which the child is the target of malevolence, instead of the perpetrator, is already a step up from the ordinary. As doors slam on their own and the danger begins to manifest itself physically, the characters all devolve into their basic characteristics. The dog barks, the nanny waves a cross, Dan denies any kooky stuff going on, and Ali calls on her boyfriend in times of great stress. In one of the film’s lighter scenes, the boyfriend comes over to play with a ouija board and claims it is moving to show what the spirit in the house truly wants from teenage Ali: “P-U-S–”… See if you can figure out the rest.
Events escalate, and to be fair, director Tod Williams and his vfx crew do a good job of ratcheting suspense to make the film more psychological and engaging than many of the other in the current horror field – almost no blood is actually spilt or body parts sent a-flyin’. The camera work, in that handheld and grainy style, is used to brilliant effect. Shadows, tummy grumblings, and opening doors have never seemed quite as real or as subtly terrifying as when the characters are trying hard to ignore it all. Unfortunately, for every thoughtfully scary sequence, there are two others waiting to literally jump out and scare you…into cliché-induced catatonia.
*Minor side-note: The film’s first and largest mistake, to me, was the casting of even one recognizable actor. Sprague Grayden, whose work on 24 was being praised just last year, immediately thrust me into a reality that PARANORMAL ACTIVITY dissolved by casting two unknowns (Katie Featherstone and Micah Sloat). I’m also embarrassed to say I recognized the actress who played daughter Ali, Molly Ephraim, from a little Martin Lawrence vehicle called COLLEGE ROAD TRIP.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 (2010). Directed by: Tod Williams Screenplay by: Michael R. Perry. Kristi Rey – Sprague Grayden. Dan Rey – Brian Boland. Katie – Katie Featherston. Micah – Micah Sloat