Director: Tod Williams
A family experience what they assume to be a break-in when their house is trashed while they are all out. After installing security cameras in various rooms, a series of unexplained events begin to plaque them, and it becomes increasingly clear that the house is home to a malevolent presence.
The phenomenal success of the micro-budget sleeper hit, Paranormal Activity, guaranteed that a sequel would be hot on its heels. Hollywood loves a sure thing and sticking a ’2′ after this title was money in the bank. Though it divided critics, I really enjoyed the first movie. Ghost stories rank among my favourite species from the genus ‘horror’, and when they’re done well there’s nothing better. Some complain about the glut of ‘found footage’ movies, with the likes of Blair Witch Project, Rec, The Last Exorcism and Cloverfield all getting in on the act. However, I prefer to think of them as simply another form of filmmaking, rather than a passing fad, and sincerely hope they keep coming simply because their success rate is so high.
Set before the events of Paranormal Activity, this prequel follows Kristi, the sister of the first movie’s Katie, and her family in the weeks leading up to the events witnessed in its progenitor. The family is made up of a selection of rather uninspired, but well-played, characters. As is usual, the man of the house is the last one to believe in what’s in front of him, the woman is the first, the teenage daughter gets blamed for everything, and there is even the obligatory Spanish maid who crosses herself at every opportunity. So far, so predictable. However, to a large degree this is forgivable. A good horror movie is a well-oiled machine and well-oiled machines need parts that work.
Tod Williams (The Door in the Floor) takes over directorial duties from Oren Peli, who retains a producer credit, and demonstrates a pretty good understanding of what did and didn’t work the first time around. Paranormal Activity 2 definitely has more scares than its predecessor, takes less time to get under way and maintains the atmosphere over a slightly longer running time. Williams makes the most of what are essentially static shots, skilfully edited to profit from the expectation of scares as much as the scares themselves. Always a vital tool in building a good horror movie. The performances are all accomplished and serve the story well, particularly those of the Prieto twins, who share the role of toddler Hunter, the focus of the disturbances.
Where Paranormal Activity 2 falls down is in its efforts to over-explain the reasons behind the haunting, which results in an unsatisfactory and hokey back-story of Faustian deals with demons and the payment due, all uncovered via teenage Ali’s apparent online investigations. It’s an unnecessary flourish which only serves to weaken the realism that Williams works so hard to build. Also, there is a bizarre attempt to make a moving swimming pool cleaner seem scary, and that doesn’t really have the desired effect. Still, these things do nothing to dilute the effectiveness of the movie’s chills, and its rare understanding that when it comes to genuine scares, less is always more.
This year will see the release of two further sequels, Paranormal Activity 3 and the Japanese made Paranormal Activity: Tokyo Night, and while it’s likely that the franchise will not improve on this episode, I’d still take another two of these over another 10 Saw movies.