Ric Roman Waugh, 2013
"Do you believe me now?"
The hardest thing about a sequel to Paranormal Activity is figuring out how to keep the cameras running. Like an increasing number of horror films, the sleeper hit indie was premised on the notion of found footage supposedly captured by the characters themselves. The idea was that one of the main characters, Micah, bought a pricey camera and kept it running as a way of documenting strange events bumps in the night by his girlfriend. Paranormal Activity 2 goes to greater and less believable lengths to justify the found footage conceit: this time, the film is a combination of ordinary home videos, the characters’ attempts to capture things on camera so that others will believe them, the characters’ attempts to use the camera as a light source, and high-def security footage from equipment installed by the characters after an apparent break-in. Your mileage may vary, plausibility-wise.
Of course, it may be advisable to simply suspend disbelief for the length of this hugely amusing 90-minute theme park ride. Paranormal Activity 2 actually isn’t quite a sequel, and nor is “prequel” the right term; the most accurate and least spoilery thing is to say that the film’s events take place in parallel with its predecessors’, to which they are connected in ways it’s best not to discuss. The concept, though, is pretty much the same: a family — this time a husband, a wife, a stepdaughter, and an infant son — are haunted over a succession of days and nights by a malevolent poltergeist-like presence in their new suburban home.
Directed by Tod Williams (The Door in the Floor), venturing into genre for the first time, Paranormal Activity 2 is nothing if not a well-oiled machine. Its gimmick, like the first film’s, consists of slowly introducing sinister well-that-shouldn’t-be elements to ordinary home video footage before all hell breaks loose in the last act. The opening half hour is practically all set-up, well-crafted and performed with a lovely naturalistic nonchalance; then the baby’s mobile starts rotating by itself and we’re off.
This is the rare mainstream horror film that demands active viewing, rather than pandering to the lowest common denominator and all but encouraging talking, texting and yelling at the screen. My preview audience was giggly at first but quickly canned it as they started searching the movie’s persistent wide shots for subtle signs that something is amiss. Then when things escalate they really escalate.
It’s an undeniably effective formula, and Williams executes it with impressive professionalism and poise. Paranormal Activity 2 is a nailbiter in all the visceral ways you could want. It is substantively identical to the first film, which is fine for now, though something will have to give if there’s a second sequel. What’s more disappointing is that it doesn’t really move the ball forward, or do any real work. Though the inscrutability of its villain is one of the film’s strengths, it would have done well to throw in a few details. There is not a single moment here as chilling as when the original protagonists discover bird-like footsteps in the flour they sprinkled to detect invisible intruders. The film ends abruptly, and we find out next to nothing new about the “demon” haunting these people, except for some cryptic suggestions regarding its motives. Paranormal Activity 2 will satisfy everything but your curiosity.
-- Eugene Novikov