The first Paranormal Activity, released in 2009, introduced a breath of fresh scare into the horror genre. Generating suspense from a stationary home security camera with a time-code on the image, it reversed the shaky-cam style of The Blair Witch Project while capturing the same suspense from unseen terrors.
The young couple featured in that first film, Katie and Micah (Katy Edwards and Micah Sloane), are back for Paranormal 2, though this time on the sidelines for a family-in-peril story. The focus is on Katie's perky sister, Kristi (Sprague Grayden), her middle-aging husband, Daniel (Brian Boland), and his teenage daughter, Ali (Molly Ephraim) from a previous marriage. Raising the fear stakes, the film adds a dog and a cute toddler to the list of the vulnerable.
Horror film convention demands that evil just needs one moral crack in a character to leap in. In the first Paranormal Activity, the badness seems to have been awakened by Micah's fondness for ogling Katie's chest through his video camera. In the new movie, the father, Daniel, is guilty of excessive house pride.
When his new eighties-style McMansion is apparently trashed by vandals, he invests in a set of security cameras around the home. That compels the audience to watch most of the rest of the movie from a half-dozen fixed camera positions, staring down into the big, pretentious home: Daniel's "man cave" study and 50-inch TV, the ceiling pan rack, the stable-sized double front doors, mirrored bedroom closet doors. It's hard to say whether it's more in need of an exorcist or a visit from the Extreme Make-Over: Home Edition team.
Director Tod Williams, trained in more cerebral fare ( The Door in the Floor, The Adventures of Sebastian Cole) is a believer in the very slow build. On about Night 12, there's finally a big bang. A few nights later, a pan falls from the ceiling rack, sending Kristi into paroxysms of terror. Some nights after that, the double doors lock the teenaged Ali out of the house.
The principle suspense is wondering when the suspense is going to start, as you scan the darkly-lit screen looking for any hint of imminent horror. Sure, there are a couple of mildly hair-raising moments the toddler, Hunter, seems to sharing the room with an invisible friend, or when Abby, the German shepherd twitches as if hallucinating a squirrel.
When the action sharply intensifies in the movie's last 15 minutes, there's one strong scene shot in greenish blur, from a night vision video-camera. Otherwise, the best sequences are too familiar from the first movie, leaving a disappointing sense of déjà boo.
Paranormal Activity 2
- Directed by Tod Williams
- Written by Michael R. Perry, Christopher Landon and Tom Pabst
- Starring: Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland and Molly Ephraim
- Classification: 14A