10/23/10

Review: Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)


For a quickie sequel to a surprise box office success, Paranormal Activity 2 is remarkably built around the first film like a custom-made holster. Staying true to the original characters, story and mood, despite a different director and writer, it's a really fun and suspenseful second helping of what made Paranormal Activity work uniquely well in a subgenre in which other similar films have tried and failed, many quite ignominiously.

The new film uses lots of techniques the first one used effectively, but still manages to find new little twists on how that works. It boils down to building suspense by showing us a frame of action and letting the audience fill in what might happen for a good little bit before showing us what actually does happen. While the effects here are mostly quite similar to the first film, they are sort of kicked up a notch.

Without spoiling the great contrivance which adds so much to this second film, I'm confident it's no spoiler to say that there is continuity between them, and that this second film centers around a similar haunting or possession, this time mostly affecting a blended family of a husband and his young daughter, new wife and baby boy, and their dog.

After what seems like a pretty poltergeist-y break-in, the husband installs security cameras at six locations in their house, to catch about any kind of activity which might occur from multiple angles.

Ditching Micah's camera obsession from the first film, however, in which he (and so the audience) would obsessively recheck the tape each night, in the new film the haunted folks are not believers right away, and try hard not to be most of the way through. So the camera footage is checked only in extremity.

Like the first film, this one is very smart about its characters and the supernatural forces they face, and that interaction. It's all motivated, interesting, creepy--i.e., more involving than a lot of horror movies tend to bother to offer.

It's a San Diego story, too, like the first film, and its suburban, upper middle class setting is almost like an extra character. As a San Diegan myself, I felt I knew everybody better, was brought in on the vibe with some immediacy and personal recognition. This family doesn't have my kitchen cabinets like Katie and Micah in the original, but the verisimilitude with a certain lifestyle and feeling lends the film a real local texture against which to cast its demonic shadow.

The cast are again excellent, and I think the surprises and connections to the first film pay off big, while most of the scares feel earned and not too musty. I really appreciated the way the two films sit together and make each other somewhat more.

Paranormal Activity 2 is quite a worthwhile, and rather ingeniously designed companion to the first film. I think I watched one or two Blair Witch sequels, but I can't remember anything about them, and they didn't make me want to go back and watch the first one again. Paranormal Activity 2 is good fun, and it does make you want to watch Paranormal Activity again. It's a very nice job of work.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

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