October 23, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Paranormal Activity 2

HORROR:

United States, 2010

U.S. Release Date:

2010-10-22

Running Length:

1:31

MPAA Classification:

R (Profanity, Violence)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

1.85:1

Cast:

Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

Director:

Tod Williams

Screenplay:

Michael R. Perry

Cinematography:

Michael Simmonds

U.S. Distributor:

Paramount Pictures

Subtitles:

none


Regardless of how it performs at the box office, this much is clear: Paranormal Activity 2 is a mistake. The clumsy and obvious byproduct of the financial success of its predecessor last Halloween, this movie has no reason for existing except to provide Paramount Pictures with a few extra shekels. Although its release does not represent an outright insult akin to the one offered by The Blair Witch Project 2, its superfluous nature not only ranks this as a waste of time but diminishes the original.

The story functions primarily as a prequel, with most of the events chronicled in this 90-minute voyeuristic extravaganza transpiring between one and two months before those depicted in Paranormal Activity. Instead of focusing on a couple, this time the roster of characters has expanded. Kristi (Sprague Grayden) is the sister of the first film's Katie (Katie Featherstone), who makes occasional appearances throughout Paranormal Activity 2, along with her soon-to-be-dead lover, Micah (Micah Sloat). Kristi is happily married to Dan (Brian Boland), who tied the knot with her some time after the death of his first wife. He has a teenage daughter, Ali (Molly Ephraim), from his first marriage. In addition, the happy couple has a new baby boy, Hunter, who's a little over a year old. He spends most of his time standing in his crib staring at things only he can see. We keep expecting him to say, "They're here!"

As in the first movie, the basic plot relates to the characters being stalked by a demon within their home and how seemingly innocuous bumps in the night gradually take an alarming turn. The stylistic choice by which everything happens in front of a video camera is carried over, although in this installment, home security cameras provide a majority of the footage (supplemented by camcorder images). This at least eliminates the silly contrivance of someone always having to be running a camera, even during the most unlikely of circumstances. By establishing this as a prequel, the protagonists from Paranormal Activity are provided with an opportunity for supporting roles. Toward the end, the time frame of Paranormal Activity 2 moves beyond that of its predecessor, allowing us a "what happens next" glimpse. The door is left open for a Paranormal Activity 3, which will undoubtedly be produced if there's profitability in making it.

While the first Paranormal Activity did an excellent job of incrementally advancing the creepiness factor with every scene and generating an ominous atmosphere as the familiar surroundings of a home became hostile, those qualities are not evident here. In Paranormal Activity 2, events follow a blueprint. It's a series of "boo!" moments connected by exposition so uninvolving that we find ourselves impatiently waiting for the next loud crash or bang. There are plenty of opportunities for startlement, but nothing approaches terror. Paranormal Activity is never frightening. In fact, considering how long it takes before the "paranormal" events begin occurring, it's on the dull side. Worse, the final ten minutes - the sequence in which the films converge - comes dangerously close to self-parody. (There were people laughing at the screening I attended, and laughter is not the intended reaction.)

The acting is better for this installment, but that's due to the employment of professional actors. Using familiar faces in a production like this can be a double-edged sword. For example, although Sprague Grayden is hardly a household name, her face may appear frustratingly familiar to some viewers. A quick perusal of her resume indicates that she has done a lot of television, including a lengthy stint on 24. When a movie is attempting to "fake" viewers into believing that what they're watching is real, it's a good idea not to involve actors who may be recognizable since that interferes with the illusion.

Tod Williams' direction effectively apes Oren Peli's approach to the first film, but the added layers of polish allowed by the larger production crew and the higher budget have not aided the sense of verisimilitude. In Paranormal Activity, it felt like we were watching two ordinary people filming themselves in the comfort of their own home. Here, everything feels artificial, from the shots of the pool cleaner going about its business to the scenes of the child standing in his crib. The qualities that made Paranormal Activity compelling have either been diluted or deleted. What's left is a faint, distorted echo of the original. It's passable entertainment for anyone who has not seen the first feature but redundant for anyone who has.

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