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Paranormal Activity 2

A Horror movie directed by Tod Williams

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A Prequel That Won't Cause Sleepless Nights

  • Oct 23, 2010
If we don't find ourselves as scared as we did a year ago, it's because, this time around, we know exactly what to expect. There will be phantom thuds. There will be objects that move on their own. There will be doors that slam without the aid of a living person or a sudden gust of wind. In "Paranormal Activity 2," many of these phenomena are preceded by the sound of a low-frequency rumble, which essentially gives audiences a signal to prepare themselves, reducing the fright factor even further. All we have left are unoriginal shock tactics like sudden loud noises, bursts of poltergeist activity, and near the end, the now overused Queasy Cam. Sitting in the theater, I was disappointed. After leaving, it all made perfect sense; the first film worked so well that there was absolutely nothing anyone could have done to top it.

Having said that, it's a shame no one made more of an effort to keep it on equal terms. "Paranormal Activity" was a relentlessly frightening movie, largely because it didn't assault the audience with conventional pop out scares. It was slow and steady unfolding of disturbing subtleties, like a time-lapse shot of Katie Featherston standing over her sleeping boyfriend and staring at him for hours and hours. It made no real effort to explain the situation. I'd be hard pressed to say that there was even a plot - it was all just sort of ... happening. Not only does "Paranormal Activity 2" have a discernable plot, it also provides an explanation for just about everything. This time around, there was no need to have it consist entirely of footage from surveillance cameras and camcorders; it could have been filmed and released as a standard supernatural thriller, complete with special effects, music, and sets.

With the exception of the final scene, the film is actually a prequel, taking place in the months prior to the events of "Paranormal Activity." The focus is Katie's sister, Kristi (Sprague Grayden), who lives in Carlsbad with her husband, Dan (Brian Boland), her infant son, Hunter (William and Jackson Prietro), her teenage stepdaughter, Ali (Molly Ephraim), and the family dog. One day, they come home and discover that the house has been ransacked, although nothing was actually taken; fearing for their safety, Dan has six security cameras installed all throughout the house. Thus begins ... well, I think you know very well what begins. Many of the first film's unsettling touches are recreated, only this time, they're repeated to the point of monotony. Consider, for example, the persistent use of swimming pool footage; almost every sequence taking place in the middle of the night begins with a shot of the pool. It's an obvious attempt to get us to notice the automated cleaner, which gets out of the water seemingly on its own.

Would it surprise you to learn that both the dog and the toddler are more intuitive than anyone else in the house? If this long dead cliché doesn't bother you, then perhaps the Hispanic maid will. Never mind the fact that communication is possible in spite of the fact that she can only speak Spanish while her employers can only speak English; she's devoutly religious and seems to sense that something evil is in the house. At one point, she lights incense and walks through the kitchen while chanting something in low, terrified murmurs. Despite the best of intentions, she can't get anyone in the house to heed her warnings - and let me reiterate that she only speaks Spanish. The audience I sat with found this character funny for some reason. Have we come to the point where comedy relief in horror movies is defined solely by ethnicity?

The ending is immensely unsatisfying. Partly, it's because of an unpleasant decision made by certain characters, one that made me dislike them. Mostly, however, it was because the story actually resolved itself, and did so quite unoriginally. Watching it unfold, I began thinking about the conclusion of the previous film, which, at the time, I found absolutely horrifying; had I known it would be the catalyst for this prequel, I would have lobbied for writer/director Oren Peli to reinsert one of his two alternate endings, which, by their descriptions alone, are indisputably frightening.

When "Paranormal Activity" was first released, many agreed that it was one of the scariest films they had ever seen. I seriously doubt people will say the same thing about "Paranormal Activity 2." Oh, it will certainly make you jump at times, but the slow, consistent, creeping terror of the original film is nowhere to be found. Was there any way this movie could have been better, or at the very least, just as good? I admit that I was excited when I first saw the trailer, but in all likelihood, that was just a fanboy reaction. I understand now - the bar was set too high, meaning there was nowhere for it to go other than down. This, of course, begs the question of why filmmakers push for sequels and/or prequels when it's clear that one film is all it takes. I live in hope that horror movies will someday be judged by their ability to scare people, not by their potential as the start of a franchise.

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October 26, 2010
Oh, Chris! Thanks SO much for this review, I almost saw it tonight but, it (luckily) wasn't playing in any of the theaters near where we were. I wasn't THAT big of a fan of the first film, this probably has something to do with the fact that I saw The Fourth Kind first and within a week of seeing Paranormal Activity. I'm so glad that I read this first, I'll definitely Netflix it- thanks for saving me money and time!
October 25, 2010
I'm actually happy to hear it isn't as scary as the first one, because that means I can attempt to see it :) I saw the first one in the movie theater and it had my heart racing, to say the least. Great review!
October 23, 2010
Hm. I liked the first movie--enough to make me chack out this sequel (or prequel). I skimmed through your review I'll be back to comment more once I see it this weekend. Thanks for the heads up!
October 24, 2010
Ok, I just saw it and I liked it. I agree with most of your points, I did like it a little more than you did (I give it a 3.5). This felt more like a movie when the original could fake being a documentary. I still liked it for different reasons than I did the original.
October 23, 2010
I knew I was doing the right thing waiting for the DVD, just didn't seem like it was worth the 8 bucks to see it one time.
More Paranormal Activity 2 reviews
review by . October 23, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
3 ½ + Stars: You Won't Wonder What Happens While You Sleep Again....
“Paranormal Activity” was an Indie Horror smash hit with a tiny budget of $ 11,000 as a limited run in Indie theaters and horror conventions. It came even as a huge surprise that it has earned more than $ 60 million domestically with a $ 193 million worldwide box-office take. The film was such a huge success that the studios scrambled to make a follow up. Well, this time the director of the first film Oren Peli returns as producer with Tod Williams as director. There are actually …
review by . October 28, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
It's not often that you can say a sequel is an improvement on the original movie, but it's nice when it happens. Paranormal Activity 2 takes what was good about the first movie and keeps it going, while learning from the mistakes of the original and doing it better.  The result is an effective and creepy ghost story that builds good tension and surprises in all the right places, with an ending that left me a little breathless.      The story of Paranormal Activity …
review by . February 18, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
*1/2 out of ****    I don't blame director Tod Williams for the failure of "Paranormal Activity 2". I blame the studio for wanting to expand on a premise that seemed just about worn out by the time the original film ended. I also blame the studio for wanting to cash-in on America's arrogance; they know most of us are idiots, and that we will pay to see disposable garbage such as this, and they exploit the fact. Simply put, this movie is a product of greed. Why so many horror …
review by . October 24, 2010
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY was flat-out one of the scarier movies of recent years. The simple story, told with the low-budget device of all the events being captured on a home camcorder, was remarkably effective and the film gave a sensation of reality and was extremely creepy. Most "scary" movies just go for giving you a jump-in-your-seat moment…if t hey can momentarily make your heart beat faster, that's success enough. PARANORMAL actually made me feel a little bit anxious, even after the film was over.    …
Quick Tip by . April 18, 2011
A brilliant little horror gem -- much like the original but perhaps a bit more nuanced due to the way it expanded on the use of video footage -- PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 is one of those rare sequels: it actually builds upon the original and, debatedly, surpasses it.  It's a clever way to pay homage but also stake out its own territory.  A wonderful & scary li'l surprise!
Quick Tip by . February 23, 2011
This film is much better than the first, IMHO. I wasn't a huge fan of the first film and even gave it a negative rating here on Lunch. That could have something to do with the fact that I had seen The Fourth Kind in the same week and found that to be far more scarier or maybe I just didn't get it because it didn't spook me at all. However, the exact opposite can be said of this film. I like how it starts as a prequel to the first film and you get a greater understanding of it and then, ends the …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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About this movie


Paramount has ordered up some more 'Paranormal Activity' this October, a sequel to last fall's indie smash. The studio is set to launch the sequel to Paranormal Activity October 22.

Poster art for "Paranormal Activity 2"

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Director: Tod Williams
Genre: Horror
Release Date: October 22, 2010
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Runtime: 91 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures
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