Paranormal Activity 2 Review

This house is most definitely NOT clean. Is the sequel to last year’s breakout horror hit any good?

The problem with the whole “found-footage” mockumentary genre is that it doesn’t really lend itself to sequels. It’s difficult enough trying to reprise what worked in the first film as well as adding to and embellishing it – the basic duty of any follow-up is to be both the same and also different enough to seem fresh. To do that in a way that complements the raw footage style of the original, without making it seem hopelessly contrived, is even trickier. One has only to think back to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project and its sequel the following year; the latter cleverly tried to have it both ways by being part documentary and part conventional follow-up, and ended up as a boring mess.

Paranormal Activity 2 tries to sidestep the whole trap-laden path by not being a sequel at all. Instead it is the equivalent of a game expansion pack; broadening the scope of the original story and explaining some of its mystery. Picking up on story threads hinted at in part one, part two shows us what happened before, during and after the events seen in the first movie. This time however the location is the home of Kristi, sister of Katie (the woman who had the original poltergeist problems). It seems Katie wasn’t the first to experience things going bump in the night. After her home is apparently burgled, Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and Daniel (Brian Boland) have cameras installed to try and catch the culprits. The resulting footage is what has now been publicly ‘released’.

Part of the reason for Paranormal Activity’s success in 2009, besides its back-to-basics take on the ghost story, was its micro-budget underdog origin and audience word-of-mouth. Naturally the sequel, with an inflated budget and much higher level of public awareness, has neither of these going for it. So you think it would try harder to impress its audience as a result. Yet, seemingly content to be part of the same story, it doesn’t really do anything new. There are the same spooky noises and rattles that we saw first time around, which are admittedly effective on occasions, but are also expected. Without wanting to give anything away, the climax completely fails to top the memorable final scene in the original.

Equally problematic is the nature of the “found footage”. What worked first time around is now stretched to breaking point. There are simply too many scenes that just happened to be conveniently caught on tape. Not content with the six cameras installed around the house, much of the story is told through camcorder footage captured by various family members, who clearly enjoy having their every move recorded for posterity. Contrived? At times it comes dangerously close to being laughable.

The quality of acting on display is the other all-too-apparent weakness. Much of the build-up is spent on introducing us to the family, and it can be pretty tedious stuff. Crashingly dull dialogue is delivered with all the credibility of your average Hollyoaks episode. Perhaps it was the rush to get the sequel out within twelve months of the original that makes it feel rather slapdash. It’s a shame some of the bigger budget couldn’t have been spent on at least polishing the script.

Despite all this, there are still a few moments that manage to creep under your skin in the same way as the original. Both films focus on the power of suggestion to create unease, and director Tod Williams doesn’t stray from this path. The clinking of saucepans and the gentle movement of a door are as potent as they were last time. But in delivering something so faithful to its predecessor, the makers have quite evidently reached the bottom of this particular barrel.

Gavin Midgley

Updated: Oct 23, 2010

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