Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) / Horror

MPAA Rated: R for some language and brief violent material
Running Time: 91 min.

Cast: Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, Katie Featherston, Seth Ginsberg, Micah Sloat, Vivis Colombetti
Director: Tod Williams
Screenplay: Michael R. Perry, Christopher Landon, Tom Pabst

Review published January 2, 2014

Paranormal Activity 2 has a novel concept, which is that the events of the film take place a few months prior to those that we've seen in the first Paranormal Activity, and then concludes with an ending that sets up for, one would assume at the time, Paranormal Activity 3. Set in Carlsbad, CA, in San Diego County, the film follows the sister of Katie Sloat (Featherston, Psychic Experiment) from the first film, Kristi (Grayden, Mini's First Time), who lives with her husband Daniel (Boland, Death of a President), her stepdaughter Ali (Ephraim, College Road Trip), and her toddler son, Hunter. Weird things start to happen around the house -- bumps in the night, doors opening and closing with no one there, ransacked cupboards and drawers, the pool cleaner has a mind of its own, and the housekeeper thinks there are bad spirits trying to take over. Hubby has surveillance cameras installed to catch what he thinks must be burglars, which provides much of the "found footage" for the movie. Strange events still occur, and they are getting progressively more aggressive, and soon they think there's more at play involving the family's past that has come back to haunt them.

With the exception of the aforementioned novel idea for continuing the story, Paranormal Activity 2 is merely a regurgitation of the first entry, only with a family, dog and housekeeper under attack rather than just a young couple. It has the same "found footage" premise, the same basic locale and style of house, the intertitle numbering of each day, and the same unseen spirit(s) that get progressively nastier, including the way it likes to drag victims by their ankles across hardwood floors. Where this sequel falls short is in its rationale for its characters to film one another, and also for the unseen editor of this footage to keep irrelevant things into the video (for instance, do we really need to see a clip of the housekeeper dancing?) Truth is, we're not always sure if there is actually someone filming the footage some of the time, despite the perpetual shaky-cam effects, so there may be a bit of fudging in the way this flick is put together that makes for a very frustrating experience if you expect it to adhere to its own premise.

The budget might be higher with more characters than Part 1, but the production value is still quite low. Taking over the directorial duties from series creator Oren Peli is Tod Williams (The Door in the Floor), who doesn't really build up the same amount of suspense in what's going on, and regurgitates many of the original film's cleverest visual moments (the fast-forward through several hours of footage, for instance). The horror movie trope of dogs and children seeing things that adults cannot is further compounded by the Latino housekeeper's ready insistence that the place is haunted. I guess the older and whiter you are, the less likely you're connected to the spirit world to see the malevolent forces that regularly parade around the closets of the house.

There are a smattering of moments meant to elicit jolts, but if you're inured to horror movies, it's unlikely that any of them will raise your pulse rate at all. Add to this the fact that the moments in between the would-be scares are as monotonous as watching the home movies of a family we don't know, and what's left is one of the most boring and worthless excuses for a motion picture in recent memory. There are no likeable characters to be found, and worse, many of them, especially the skeptical father, are irritating to listen to. Infuriating, the father is, when he has the wherewithal to install an expensive video surveillance system, and yet whenever something bizarre happens, his family practically has to twist his arm to get him to bother to take a look at any of it.

Their "guard dog" barks and barks and barks, but does anyone inquire as to what such a well-behaved animal might see that would cause alarm, either on tape or in person? Of course not. Then in one scene involving every cupboard and drawer in the kitchen opening at once, no one even bothers -- the one irrefutable display of supernatural behavior and it is all covered up, conveniently. Lengthy conversations on what might have been the cause of the front door closing on its own, or one of the kitchen pans moving on their own, aren't exactly scintillating material, especially since we all know what's going to happen. All we can do is wait for the smart-alecky father to finally acknowledge that his inability to listen to anything will eventually result in mortal peril to his family.

The original Paranormal Activity was a success because it tapped into that which every person fears -- being in a house alone and not knowing what all of the weird thumps and creaks are coming from. If you watch it at night, alone, at home, it is enough to creep you out for a good while afterward. Paranormal Activity 2 doesn't have the same effect because it plays out much more like a conventional film, and doesn't add much to the original except for setting up future entries. Although billed somewhat as a sequel, this film does spoil the first Paranormal Activity, so it is strongly advised you do watch them in order, if you really must continue with this story at all. It's hard to justify, though, as this follow-up is about 10% thriller and 90% filler.

-- Followed by Paranormal Activity 3.

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo