Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)

Paranormal Activity 2 is successful in a lot of ways. As the sequel to an indie flick-turned surprise blockbuster, it plays well as a cinematic big brother, essentially presenting itself as the movie it’s predecessor would have been had it been developed and produced with the budget and talents at tinsel town’s disposal. And surprisingly, that's not a bad thing.

It smartly lures us in with a familiar setup – a family with a video cam, played by relative unknowns, trace and record their own haunting. It also moves at the same pace, lulling us to sleep with slice of life verite, then jarring us awake with the occasional bump in the night.

It’s the same formula that worked in the first movie, and the sequel is smart not to stray. Director Tod Williams (2004’s The Door in the Floor, the upcoming Jar City) builds the same chilling atmosphere, using steady, stagnant footage to create a gripping anxiousness, then switching to handheld action for a more claustrophobic, “jolt around every corner” approach.

The Paranormal flicks are haunted house throwbacks, and the sequel gives us the same spirit haunting the same family – only this time it’s the sister down the street, her new husband and daughter from another marriage, their dog, and their newborn baby. Instead of starting fresh or going bigger in its mythology, the screenplay (by Michael Perry, Christopher Landon and Tom Pabst) wisely expands upon the original story, and effectually deepens it. Paranormal 2 is a sequel, a prequel and a companion piece, existing as both its own film and as a story within a story.

If this all sounds a little too “been there, done that” well, that’s the point. Williams' film is a trap, leading you into the familiar, and then ripping at your comfort zone. The sequel gives you more reason to fear, more angles to fear from, and more people to fear for. And just when you think you can handle all the parlor tricks to come, it hits you with the real cinema magic.

Hitchock once expressed that he believed terror to be in ancitipation. This film bleeds anticipation - a more genuine and thrilling anticipation than the original - and finds new ways to pay off.

I didn’t really care for the first Paranormal flick. The tricks were neat, and the ending had shock factor. The atmosphere was there, but it rarely ever paid off. It was, essentially, a neat trick spread too thin. Paranormal 2 is weightier and more threatening, and therefore works better. It does everything the first film did right, and often does it better. Its one failure, oddly enough, mirror’s its predecessors greatest strength; i.e. the impact of its ending… but critique of an ending has no place in a review, so we’ll just leave that alone.

Paranormal Activity 2 is a more satisfying and skillful version of its predecessor, while simultaneously respectful of it, and the spirit which draws audiences in. It’s fun scare-fare for the Halloween season, and a more traditional alternative to the likes of Saw in 3D.

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