I was having a crappy day last Saturday, so I decided in the afternoon to flee the house and hit a movie. One of my favorite movie reviewers, Slate’s Dana Stevens, had just posted her opinion of this flick, and when she said she thought it was a blast, I knew it was a safe bet for me too. As it turns out, we were both right. Go us!
This movie serves as both a prequel and a sequel to the first Paranormal Activity. The bulk of the story is set a few months before the original film, with the final scene set the day after. Because of this, it is, I’m afraid, an absolute prerequisite that you’ve seen the first one. Two of the three 15 year-old girls I smuggled into this R-rated movie (“Um, yeah, I’m her big sister. . .”) hadn’t seen the original and therefore spent the entire 90 minutes alternating between screams of terror and obnoxious questions like, “Wait, who’s that guy?” It was pretty damn annoying, frankly. And so, when I say “prerequisite,” mind you I’m saying it mainly for the sake of others in the theater who would like to be left to watch the film in peace. Keep your questions to yourself. Write ’em down, Google ’em later.
For those that saw PA1, a quick reminder: it was about a young couple, Katie and Micah, who suspected they were being haunted by some kind of spirit. They set up a video camera in their bedroom and began to record the nights, watching the footage together each morning. They monkeyed with a Ouija board, because they were idiots who never watched horror movies. And gradually, they began to realize not only that they were, in fact, truly being haunted, but that the spirit was an evil one out to get them. Hints were dropped that it was something Katie had seen before, as a little girl sharing a room with her younger sister, Kristi. And eventually, the evil demon spirit got super-duper mad and all hell broke loose. Litrilly.
Paranormal Activity 2 focuses on Katie’s sister Kristi and her husband and two kids — a teenage daughter (her step-daughter) and the couple’s new baby, a boy named Hunter. Essentially, it’s the same story as the first film: haunted house, escalating violence, bloody denouement. But this time, we get a little more of an idea of what the Bad Thing is doing there, as well as what it wants.
The story is hardly the point, though, right? What you really want to know is whether or not it’s scary. The answer to that is a yes and a no from me. That is, no, it didn’t scare me in the way really, really good scary movies scare me. It’s not a problem I could relate to, not believing in demons, and therefore not something that dug into me in a personal way.
However, the movie is perfectly crafted to make even the most jaded horror movie fan jump three feet into the air roughly every ten minutes. It’s loaded with those moments I call “BOO!” moments, when things are quiet, quiet, quiet, and then KAZAM! something suddenly happens outta nowhere and your brain throws your body instantaneously into flight mode. Upwards. At one point near the end, I was convinced one of those 15 year-old girls I snuck in was going to jump into my lap and stay there for the rest of her life. This, I would say, is a fairly good quality in a scary movie.
The other thing I liked about PA2 was the way it was set up. This time, instead of a single, hand-held camera, perched on a tripod at night (as in the original), this family has about four security cameras set up in the house, thinking initially that their problem is a pesky human being. That means that every night, when the world goes dark, what we see is a rotation through each camera — a steady cycling for a minute or two through each location. Cut to the pool — everything’s quiet at the pool. Cut to the kitchen — everything’s quiet at the kitchen. Cut to the staircase — everything’s quiet at the staircase. Cut to the baby’s room — mostly quiet, though the dog looks distressed (dogs always know, don’t they? Dogs, babies, and Catholic nannies). Cut back to the pool — everything’s quiet at the. . . holy shit, THAT ain’t natural!!
It’s the perfect set-up for what is, essentially, a 90-minute series of loud-quiet-loud gimmickry designed to keep you precariously perched on the edge of your seat. And man, does it ever work.
If you’re looking for a Halloween movie this weekend, in other words, I think you’ve got your flick. Recommended!
Genre: Horror, Ghosts
Cast: Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, Sprague Grayden, Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat