By Nicholas Moreau
“Hollywood cashes in!” That’s what the title of “Paranormal Activity 2” seems to scream.
While the original “Paranormal Activity” really pushed the boundaries of what an independent film could accomplish, it was entirely self-contained, making the idea of a sequel seem laughable. With a much bigger budget, a more seasoned director, and the inevitable stigma that comes with a sequel, can “Paranormal Activity 2” possibly live up to the spirit of the high-grossing, low-budget, R-rated film that terrorized worldwide audiences last year? The answer is yes; the creators nailed the spirit of the first film. The biggest problem is that they actually did it too well.
Fortunately for fans, “Paranormal Activity 2” can’t really be considered a sequel, despite the misleading title. Its story does not actually take place after that of the first film, but runs parallel to it.
It begins with Kristi Rey (Sprague Grayden), the sister of the first film’s demon-afflicted Katie (Katie Featherston), bringing her newborn son home from the hospital.
Just as in the first film, the story is told through segments of home-movie footage and security-camera tape. The key players include Kristi’s husband, Dan (Brian Bolland); her stepdaughter, Ali (Molly Ephraim), the family’s superstitious nanny, Martine (Vivis Cortez), and their German shepherd, Abby.
They could be the family next door, leading perfectly average lives, until – you guessed it – strange, inexplicable things begin to occur around their house.
While Kristi and Ali are quick to jump to a supernatural explanation, Dan has a much harder time believing that his house is really haunted by otherworldly spirits.
The true genius of “Paranormal Activity 2” is how it seems to effortlessly wrap itself around the plot of the first movie. Featherstone and Micah Sloat reprise their roles from the first movie as Katie and Micah, who frequently visit Kristi’s house to see their newborn nephew.
Without spoiling too much, the events of “Paranormal Activity 2” expand upon the events of the first film, with many scenes adding as much insight into the plot of the first film as the second. We learn not just what Katie and Micah were doing during the large time gaps in the original “Paranormal Activity,” but we also dig a lot further into Katie and Kristi’s history, which gives context to the hauntings.
Seeing these events unfold from a different angle gives the story a much bigger scope than anyone who has seen the first movie could have predicted. After seeing this sequel, you’ll never be able to look at the first movie the same way again, which is a huge testament to the writers who clearly put a lot of effort into creating a plot that so effortlessly supplements the first film’s.
Unfortunately, the very existence of a “Paranormal Activity 2” is obviously an attempt to repeat the success of the first one, and this very blatantly comes through in the film’s structure.
“Paranormal Activity 2” will not scare you nearly as much as the first one did, but this isn’t because it’s a hacked-together sequel. The biggest problem with “Paranormal Activity 2” is that it sticks exactly to the original’s formula: an agonizingly slow increase in perceived spiritual activity, cleverly heightening tension at times without a payoff, only to hit with a heart-stopping “BANG!” when you least expect it. Combined with a “this could happen to ordinary people like you” atmosphere, it’s no wonder this film left some viewers with sleepless nights.
This sequel follows the pacing of the first movie almost beat for beat, allowing those who have seen the first movie to predict exactly when the “scares” are coming and greatly diminishing their effect. It’s déjà-vu: The characters talk, they go to bed, something mysteriously moves, the characters wake up and freak out about it, they talk, they go to bed, a door mysteriously slams, they freak out about it, etc. It can leave you wishing you could just fast-forward to the interesting stuff at the end.
The last 20 minutes or so is definitely the highlight of this movie, but even its “Blair Witch”-style action doesn’t make it much less predictable. The film does have its fair share of jump-out-of-your-seat moments, but you just never get that bone-chilling feeling you got when you saw a possessed Katie standing over Micah watching him sleep for hours on end in the first movie.
As far as sequels go, “Paranormal Activity 2” could have been a lot worse. It’s obvious that the creators of this film at least had their hearts in the right place.
“Paranormal Activity 2” does offer some interesting insight into the first movie, and it is for this reason that I can definitely recommend this to fans of the original. Just don’t go into it expecting the same level of fear and suspense the first one gave you.