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Movie Review: Paranormal Activity 2

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*Note: The following review contains some moderate spoilers

Last year a little mysterious horror film called Paranormal Activity was released and made almost $200 million at the box office. Not bad for a movie that cost less than $15,000 to make.

With that level of success it was inevitable there would be a sequel. And so along comes Paranormal Activity 2 and the immediate thing people will want to know is if it’s as good as the original. 

Well, sadly it’s not. 

It has the same sort of set-up us the first film. Some people (this time a whole family instead of just a couple) set up cameras in their house and night after night (and sometimes day) mysterious things start happening. The family soon begins to suspect that their house is haunted.

Props must be given to the new director and writer (the original writer/director, Oren Peli, just serves as a producer here) for not overcomplicating things. The idea of a camera(s) capturing what’s going bump in the night, so to speak, is kept at its simplest level – no fancy camera trickery for example – which paves the way for the jump scares you expect.

The trouble with Paranormal Activity 2 is how the scenes of night time terror are laced throughout the film. It’s almost as if writer Michael R. Perry and director Tod Williams didn’t know how to correctly punctuate the film with these crucial scenes, so they end up feeling randomly placed throughout the narrative rather than feeling like they flow organically.

The fact that we get more than one view point this time around is in some ways a good thing, as it obviously allows for different locations in which we view the weird goings-on. However, that only works to a point, and I found myself yearning for the simpler and much more effective one-camera set-up in the bedroom found the first film.

The biggest problem with this sequel, however, is its overall structure. The way the first one ends, leaves things wide open for some fascinating stuff to follow. I thought it was one of the points of even making a sequel in the first place, to see “what happens next.” However, as we find out a short while into the movie, the action takes place before the events of the first movie. In a sense, this unfairly cheats the audience since not only do we not get to see much of the events following the shocking ending of the original (we get about 5 minutes worth at the end), but we sort of know (or at least have some sort of general idea) that it is going to lead into the beginning of the story we already know.

Now it should be noted that not all is a disappointment – there are at least four very solid scares which fantastically mix tension and atmosphere with loud jump scares. One particularly effective instance takes the “leg pulling” scene from the first film to a whole other level.

The interesting thing about both the Paranormal Activity films (and most great horror films in general) is the fact that most of what makes them scary is the anticipation of what’s going to happen rather than the loud noise which makes you jump (although well done examples of those are always welcome in a horror movie). Although this is not has handled as well in the sequel, that overall sense is still thankfully there.

While Paranormal Activity 2 has some more than decent scares and a certain faithfulness to the atmosphere of the original, it’s still an inferior movie in most ways. It attemtps to tie events into the first one in an admittedly unexpected way, but feels a bit unfair considering the way the first one ended. Stepping things up a level may have felt like the necessary thing to do but this just goes to show that more isn’t necessarily better.

 

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