REVIEW: Paranormal Activity 2 Is More of the Same, and Less
Oren Peli's 2007 lo-fi horror megahit Paranormal Activity was a pleasing enough combination of clever and silly: A phony video document of a young couple's efforts to get acquainted with the "demon" that haunts their midst -- invisibly opening doors, turning lights off and on, and making rumbly middle-of-the-night noises -- Paranormal Activity had its share of oblique, creepy moments, even if the ultimate effect was about as haunting as a demon burp. Still, Peli understood the advantages of suggesting horrors rather than showing them outright. The scariest things in Paranormal Activity are the things you don't see.
In contrast, Paranormal Activity 2 is too much of a bad thing. Making a sequel and need to raise the stakes in the cheapest way? Build a movie around child and animal endangerment! Don't just show a toddler being pulled from his crib by an invisible force -- get the family dog in on the action too, because you just know the loyal creature (in this case, a German Shepherd named Abby) will do everything in her power to protect her little charge. Directed by Tod Williams (The Door in the Floor), working from a script by Michael R. Perry that features characters created by Peli, Paranormal Activity 2 sinks much lower than it needs to in order to get a rush out of us -- and in the end, the rush isn't even that great. The movie puts us through the paces with minimal payoff.
Paranormal Activity 2 opens with home-made videos of a young couple bringing their infant son home from the hospital. We meet the new mom and dad, the cute baby, the older step-sis (from dad's previous marriage) and the aforementioned family pet. We also meet the family's Hispanic housekeeper (who, natch, is the first one to cotton to the evil lurking around this little family unit), as well as the new mom's sister, Katie (Katie Featherston), who is the Katie from the first Paranormal Activity. You see, Paranormal Activity Part Deux is actually a prequel; in a few scenes we even get to see Katie's poor goner of a boyfriend, Micah, before he's brought down by that nasty demon punch.
A year goes by. Baby is one already -- can you believe it? And one day, the family returns from a trip to find the home has been ransacked, although nothing has been stolen. They install security cameras that begin recording some very strange phenomena: Tea kettles get put on the hot stove by human beings and -- brace yourself -- start whistling. The automatic pool cleaner drifts lazily around the surface of the family pool, just as -- shiver -- it's been programmed to do. Human beings go around making raucous jokes about -- Lordy me! -- who made a big stink in the bathroom.
Most of Paranormal Activity 2 is actually exceedingly ultra-normal activity. That was true of its predecessor as well, and it's part of the key to why these movies work to whatever degree that they do work: We're lulled into the routine of boring, everyday stuff, which puts us off-guard; then we jump a mile when, say, a clown doll comes alive and grabs us from under the bed.
That exact thing doesn't happen in Paranormal Activity 2, though the picture does feature one extremely effective boo! moment. But the rest of the time I just felt tortured, waiting for something bad to happen to the dog (what does happen is maybe not as bad as it could be, but it's not particularly fun, and it's never resolved) and to the 1-year-old (who, I'm afraid, doesn't get off so easy).
This sort of "suspense" may be fun for some people, but for me, it hardly makes up for enduring endless minutes of boring blue-toned surveillance video, mostly showing doors opening and closing of their own accord. There's little that's artful or even clever about Paranormal Activity 2, and unlike its predecessor, it doesn't have the stealth factor going for it. The first picture was a surprise hit -- audiences found their way to it almost by accident; it made its audience feel as if they were making their own private discovery, even if that wasn't exactly the case. But Paranormal Activity 2 is destined to make huge money not because it's particularly spooky or affecting, but just because it's there. There's nothing paranormal about it at all; it's simply business as usual.