Paranormal Activity 2

The Paranormal Activity 2 Experience
Let’s turn back the clock to a simpler time, a time when movies could be made on a budget of eleven thousand dollars, a time when candy bars were this big (I’m making a gesture indicating how large a candy would have been back then.) And it only cost  . . . erm . . . I dunno. Less?  Let’s go back to 2009, when a plucky little movie took the nation by storm and made a totally insane amount of money. That plucky little movie’s name?  Paranormal Activity.

Let’s fast forward back to the future — which is now.  It’s nearing Halloween and just released this weekend is the successor in what the producers are probably hoping will be a horror movie franchise, Paranormal Activity 2.  Yeah!

Maybe you were thinking, “Captain Midnight, where could they take the story next?  Did Katie get on a plane, perhaps going somewhere else, taking the evil or whatever it was, with her? Maybe Paranormal Activity Goes Hawaiian?”   I was wondering about that too.  Of course, they could have gone the whole Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows route and made a conventional horror movie rather than a found footage film.  Maybe they could have made Paranormal Activity 2 about the aftermath and ensuing investigation into what occurred at the end of the first film.  I’d have been okay with that.

Instead they chose to continue in the found footage vein, which given the reception to Book of Shadow, I’m not surprised.  Oren Peli found a winning formula in doing his story as cinéma vérité.  There is no reason not to go back to the well.  Even if the sequel falls flat, it’s hard to imagine anyone crucifying him or his co-producers for trying to do it again.  Did it work again?  Yeeeeeeeah, sort of – instead of Paranormal Activity 2 simply being another found footage haunting film, unrelated to the first except in style, it’s tied directly to the first film.  You could even call it a prequel to the first film and not miss the mark by much.

Paranormal Activity 2 opens with the Rey family returning  to their snazzy Carlsbad home shortly after the birth a son, who will go through life with the name Hunter Rey. The new mother, Kristi, is the sister of Katie from the first film.    Uh-oh.  That immediately took me out of the movie.  After all, if supernatural shenanigans occurred with Kristi’s family first, how is it that when the spooky stuff started up at Casa de Katie, she and Micah didn’t put two and two together the first night. I spent most of the rest of the film wondering how they were going to resolve that.

We meet up with the Reys a year later.  They return home this time to find the place ransacked.  They assume it was robbery but are mystified because nothing was taken. We’re not mystified.  We know exactly what is happening, and therein lies the problem; there is no mystery or thrill of discovery in this movie as there was in the first.  Daniel, the dad of this doomed little clan, has a bunch of security cameras installed in an attempt to prevent the house from getting ransacked again.  So, in addition to the first person point of view afforded us by the handheld camcorder as in the original film, we also have the impersonal bird’s eye view of mall security, which goes some ways to undermining what works with cinéma vérité in general and worked with the original Paranormal Activity in particular.  We lose the intensity of experiencing it as a character. The security cameras take away some of the vérité.  If you’re going to do that, what is the point?  Why not just shoot the film in a conventional way?   That’s just one more thing I’m thinking about for the rest of the movie.

Paranormal Activity was a slow burn, but it was a continuous burn.  After we have the house ransacking and a  pool cleaner that hops out of the pool when nobody is there to see it, nothing really happens.  It’s less like Paranormal Activity and more like Paranormal Inactivity.  Huh?  Huh? Erm . . . okay, it’s a cruddy pun and I’m probably not the first to make it.

So instead of the slow boil, we spend the first part of the movie getting to know the family, which is something we didn’t get much of in the first film. Daniel Rey apparently is a Burger King franchisee.  I immediately lose any and all sympathy for him.  Fast food franchisees are often, in my experience, the suburban incarnation of the sweatshop owner. Screw ‘em. Kristi Rey, the sister of Katie from the first film is your standard issue upper middle class white suburban house wife, managing the house and help; there is the baby, who is a baby and Ali, Daniel’s teenage daughter by a previous marriage, who pretty much acts like a typical teen.

We see them go about their lives and the three things of interest we learn about the family are: Abby, their German shepherd is the one character in the movie with any personality; Katie and Kristi are sisters who have a weird history of spooky stuff in their family and that the Rey family takes a chauvinistic attitude toward their Hispanic housekeeer.   Even the malevolent presence that haunts and torments the Rey family is flat and boring, merely going through the motions. “Eh . . . 3:00am.  Time to knock over this chair.  Meh.”

Paranormal Activity 2 is not a total loss, especially if you didn’t get a chance to see the first one in the theater, which is what you should have done.  Neither film is at it’s best on DVD.   For the full on Paranormal Activity experience, you want to see either of them at a theater, preferably a crowded theater.

The scary stuff doesn’t really get going until near the end, when it flies at us full force. It’s about as subtle as the last ten minutes of  The Blair Witch Project, but not as effective.  The presence in the house is evil, in that it means the Rey family harm, but it’s just not very scary.

Sprague Grayden
Brian Boland
Molly Ephraim
Katie Featherston

Tod Williams

Michael R. Perry
Christopher Landon
Tom Pabst

Two and a half of five Vincents

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