Last year audiences were treated to an ultimate low budget affair, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, which had people in locations all over scrambling to demand the film in their city. As we know now the film went on to be one of the most profitable films from last year. Here we are, a year later with a sequel banging at the doors of movie theaters across the country. I had my doubts going in to view PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2, and I can now say I had nothing to fear, at least when it came to the film’s quality. The film captured the feel of the first and greatly improved in aspects of fear and tension. If you loved the first film, I have no doubt you will be clamoring all over this one.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 begins with a family bringing home their newborn son Hunter. The majority of the first 20 minutes or so is spent getting to know the family before things start getting out of hand. One night they return home to find their house completely torn apart like a burglar tore through, but nothing stolen. To combat this, the family hires a crew to install several motion activated cameras to catch anything out of the ordinary, along with their own hand held camera to capture the rest. Before too long it becomes pretty obvious that what they are dealing with is something far more sinister and frightening than they could have ever imagined.
I want to address the camera use first and foremost. I get the security camera footage, and after a while the handheld makes more sense too with the daughter trying to capture the creeks and noises on tape. However for the first half hour or so the camera seems to be on, just cause. Unlike the first film where it’s explained they are trying to document everything they can about the phenomena they are experiencing, here having a camera on seems to just be the norm and just for the hell of it. I can’t complain too much because it helps to relieve the tension as it is the source of the comedic relief in between the “Night 1,” “Night 2,” scenes.
I sincerely hope most everyone seeing this sequel has seen the first, because otherwise prepare to be spoiled big time. If you are familiar with the first then you know that when “Night 1″ etc. appears on screen you know that’s when the good stuff goes down and you can start scanning the screen for where the scare is going to come from. Well, here’s one area that improves on the first; it’s not just nighttime when things go bump in the night, there’s plenty of fun to be had in the day as well, when most everyone has left the house leaving just Hunter and whoever happens to be watching him. The tension carries immensely from scene to scene because you really feel like anything can happen, even though that familiar buzz kicks in when stuff’s about to go down. While the jump scares are more plentiful here, the buildup to when things go off the rails does seem to take a long time, and you will find yourself getting caught in long pauses before the scare comes for you.
Another improvement to the first film is the fact that this time around instead of following two people; we have a family of four and a dog. What’s more is that one of the family members is a small and defenseless baby that you really are scared for as the film goes on. You’re scared because the demon they are dealing with means business when things start to get hairy and you wonder what it’s really capable of. The film uses are fears against us in the most primal and personal ways, knowing how helpless we are to resist the charms and innocence of an infant. When the first film busted onto the scene it had the element of surprise working for it, no one knew exactly what to expect; this time around we are familiar with the presentation so what it lacks in inventiveness and surprise it makes up for in the intensity and our fear for what’s at stake and what’s at stake here is the lives of a family and their infant child that is helpless to protect itself and the family is in shock to what’s happening to them, which makes the culmination of events so heavy that my arms were shaking by the end.
What I feel people don’t give this film and its predecessor enough credit for is the way the films play with our senses and our expectations. The slight of hand is used just as well in this film, trying to make us focus on one part of the screen then bringing the action to another part of the screen, which really has the ability to make us uneasy that we can’t truly predict where the director is going to scare us. You might feel cheated that the director, Tod Williams, resorts to quick and loud jump scares to put us on edge, but I feel that gives strength to the tension that keeps building and building. It’s the scares that come from moments of extreme calm to loud jarring booms and something popping out at you. Everything is taken up a notch in this film compared to the first.
I’m keeping this as spoiler free as humanly possible, so to talk about specifics of the ending would be an absolute crime. Many complained about the commercialized ending of the first film, those people will likely be doing that even more so this time. While I did laugh about the concluding moments, part of it was because of the absurdity of it and partly because of a frightened nervousness. I will say, the ending did terrify me on a certain level, but I in no way can say it’s the ending I wanted to see. Also, people wondering how this film could possibly serve as a sequel to the events of the first can rest easy, it ties in seamlessly, which had me even more terrified.
As far as the effects go, I feel like once again they are done incredibly well. Everything looks very real, which makes things all the more frightening to watch. That being said, the effects were right on par with the first film, but this one had a budget that dwarfs the first, so my gripe is where did the money go. It’s a small nitpick and doesn’t hurt any aspect of the movie, but I figured it is a legitimate source of argument for further discussion. I would love to discuss in detail some of the most effective effects use and scares, but giving too much away would completely destroy the effectiveness of the film. I will however give up that the closer this film got to the end, the more that sense of dread took me into a chokehold and had me shivering in fear as to what was about to happen. Everything involving the family’s dog Abby was effective for me, I love dogs and that dog was as much a character as anyone else in the film.
Overall PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 is indeed a worthy follow-up to last year’s breakthrough hit, and actually improves on it in several effective ways, but still drags in parts. At times the tension is unbearable, the scares are terrifying and as the film draws to a close there’s barely time to stop and take a breath. The authenticity of the family and the fear they experience chilled me deeply and will likely be sleeping with one eye open for a while. With this installment I know I would much rather see what’s in store for me every Halloween in a film like this than wondering if the next SAW film is going to suck or not. If the scares remain as terrifying as presented here, then Paramount can be sure there’s at least one person buying a ticket every year.